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PART IV - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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News from Egypt: Return of Bonaparte.
Nothing was more likely to produce a striking effect on the mind than the Egyptian war; and though the great naval victory gained by Nelson near Aboukir1 had destroyed all its possible advantages, letters dated from Cairo, orders issuing from Alexandria to penetrate to Thebes, on the confines of Ethiopia, increased the reputation of a man who was not now within sight, but who at a distance seemed an extraordinary phenomenon. He put at the head of his proclamations Bonaparte, Commander-in-chief and Member of the National Institute; whence it was concluded that he was a friend to knowledge and a protector of letters; but the guarantee which he gave for these qualities was not any firmer than his profession of the Mahomedan faith,2 followed by his concordat with the Pope.3 He was already beginning to deceive Europe by a system of juggling tricks, convinced, as he was, that for everyone the science of life consists merely in the maneuvers of egoism. Bonaparte is not a man only but also a system; and if he were right, the human species would no longer be what God has made it. He ought therefore to be examined like a great problem, the solution of which is of importance to meditation throughout all ages.
Bonaparte, in reducing everything to calculation, was sufficiently acquainted with that part of the nature of man which does not obey the will to feel the necessity of acting upon the imagination; and his twofold dexterity consisted in the art of dazzling multitudes and of corrupting individuals.
His conversation with the Mufti in the pyramid of the Cheops could not fail to enchant the Parisians, for it united the two qualities by which they are most easily captivated: a certain kind of grandeur and of mockery together. The French like to be moved and to laugh at being moved: quackery is their delight, and they aid willingly in deceiving themselves, provided they be allowed, while they act as dupes, to show by some witticisms that they are not so.
Bonaparte, in the pyramid, made use of the Oriental style. “Glory to Allah,” said he, “there is no true God but God, and Mahomet is his prophet. The bread stolen by the wicked turns into dust in his mouth.” “Thou hast spoken,” said the Mufti, “like the most learned of the Mullahs.”—“I can cause a chariot of fire to descend from Heaven,” continued Bonaparte, “and direct it upon the earth.”—“Thou art the mightiest Captain,” replied the Mufti, “whose hand the power of Mahomet hath armed.”4 Mahomet, however, did not prevent Sir Sidney Smith from arresting by his brilliant valor the successes of Bonaparte at St. Jean-d’Acre.5
When Napoléon, in 1805, was named King of Italy, he said to General Berthier in one of those moments when he talked of everything that he might try his ideas upon other people: “This Sidney Smith made fortune fail me at St. Jean-d’Acre; my purpose was to set out from Egypt, proceed to Constantinople, and arrive at Paris by marching back through Europe.” This failure, however, made at the time a very decent appearance. Whatever his regrets might be, gigantic like the enterprises which followed them, Bonaparte found means to make his reverses in Egypt pass for successes; and although his expedition had no other result than the ruin of the fleet and the destruction of one of our finest armies, he was called the Conqueror of the East.
Bonaparte, availing himself with ability of the enthusiasm of the French for military glory, associated their self-love with his victories as well as with his defeats. He gradually took possession of the place which the Revolution occupied in every head, and attached to his own name that national feeling which had aggrandized France in the eyes of foreigners.
Two of his brothers, Lucien and Joseph,6 had seats in the Council of Five Hundred, and both in their different lines had enough of intellect and talent to be eminently useful to the General. They watched for him over the state of affairs, and when the moment was come, they advised him to return to France. The armies had been beaten in Italy and were for the most part disorganized through the misconduct of the administration. The Jacobins began to show themselves once more, the Directory was without reputation and without strength: Bonaparte received all this intelligence in Egypt, and after some hours of solitary meditation, he resolved to set out.7 This rapid and certain perception of circumstances is precisely what distinguishes him, and opportunity has never offered itself to him in vain. It has been frequently repeated that on departing then, he deserted his army. Doubtless, there is a species of exalted disinterestedness which would not have allowed a warrior to separate himself thus from the men who had followed him, and whom he left in distress. But General Bonaparte ran such risks in traversing the sea covered with English vessels; the design which summoned him to France was so bold that it is absurd to treat his departure from Egypt as cowardice. Such a being must not be attacked with common declamations: every man who has produced a great effect on other men, to be judged, should be examined thoroughly.
A reproach of a much graver nature is the total want of humanity which Bonaparte manifested in his Egyptian campaign. Whenever he found any advantage in cruelty, he indulged in it, and yet his despotism was not sanguinary. He had no more desire to shed blood than a reasonable man has to spend money without need. But what he called necessity was in fact his ambition; and when this ambition was concerned, he did not for a moment allow himself to hesitate to sacrifice others to himself. What we call conscience was in his eyes only the poetical name of deception.
Revolution of the 18th of Brumaire.
In the time which had elapsed since Bonaparte’s brothers wrote to him in Egypt to advise his return, the face of affairs had undergone a singular change. General Bernadotte had been appointed Minister of War and had in a few months restored the organization of the armies. His extreme activity repaired all the mischiefs which negligence had caused. One day, as he was reviewing the young men of Paris who were on the eve of marching to the scene of war, My lads, he said, there are assuredly among you some great captains. These simple words electrified their souls by recalling to their remembrance one of the chief advantages of free institutions, the emulation which they excite in every class.
The English had made a descent into Holland, which had been already pushed back.1 The Prussians had been beaten at Zurich by Massena;2 the French armies had again begun to act on the offensive in Italy. Thus, when Bonaparte returned, Switzerland, Holland, and Piedmont3 were still under the control of France; the barrier of the Rhine, gained by the conquests of the Republic, was not disputed with her, and the force of France was on a balance with that of the other states of Europe. Who could have imagined then that of all the combinations which fortune presented to her choice, that which would lead her to be conquered and subdued was to raise the ablest of her generals to supreme power? Tyranny annihilates even the military force, to which it has sacrificed everything.
It was no longer, therefore, external reverses which, in 1799, made France desire Bonaparte; but the fear which the Jacobins excited was a powerful aid to him. They were now without means, and their appearance was nothing more than that of a specter which comes to stir the ashes: it was, however, enough to rekindle the hatred which they inspired, and the nation, flying from a phantom, precipitated itself into the arms of Bonaparte.
The President of the Directory had said on the 10th of August of the very year in which Bonaparte was made Consul; Royalty will never raise its head again; no longer will those men be seen who pretended to be the delegates of heaven that they might oppress the earth with more security; in whose eyes France was but their patrimony, Frenchmen but their subjects, and the laws the mere expression of their good pleasure. What was to be seen no more was, however, seen very soon; and what France wished in calling Bonaparte to the throne, peace and repose, was exactly what his character rejected as an element in which he could not live.
When Caesar overturned the Roman republic he had to combat Pompey and the most illustrious patricians of the age: Cicero and Cato contended against him; everywhere there was greatness arrayed in opposition to his. Bonaparte met with no adversaries whose names deserve to be mentioned. If the Directory had been in the fullness of its past force, it would have said, like Reubell when hints were given him that there was reason to apprehend that General Bonaparte would offer his resignation: Very well, let us accept it, for the republic will never want a general to command its armies. In fact, the circumstance which had rendered the armies of the French Republic formidable till then, was that they had no need of any particular man to command them. Liberty draws forth in a great nation all the talents which circumstances require.
Exactly on the 18th of Brumaire I arrived at Paris from Switzerland, and as I was changing horses some leagues from the city, I was informed that the Director Barras had just passed, on his way to his estate of Gros-bois, accompanied by gendarmes. The postilions were relating the news of the day, and this popular mode of becoming acquainted with them gave them additional interest. It was the first time since the Revolution that the name of an individual was heard in every mouth. Till then it was said, the Constituent Assembly has done so and so, or the people, or the Convention; now there was no mention of any but this man, who was to be substituted for all and leave the human race anonymous; who was to monopolize fame for himself, and to exclude every existing creature from the possibility of acquiring a share of it.
The very evening of my arrival, I learned that during the five weeks which Bonaparte had spent at Paris since his return, he had been preparing the public mind for the Revolution which had just taken place. Every faction had presented itself to him, and he had given hopes to all. He had told the Jacobins that he would save them from the return of the old dynasty; he had, on the contrary, suffered the royalists to flatter themselves that he would re-establish the Bourbons; he had insinuated to Sieyès that he would give him an opportunity of bringing forth into light the constitution which he had been keeping in darkness for ten years; he had, above all, captivated the public, which belongs to no faction, by general proclamations of love of order and tranquillity. Mention was made to him of a woman whose papers the Directory had caused to be seized; he exclaimed on the absurd atrocity of tormenting women, he who, according to his caprice, has condemned so many of them to unlimited exile; he spoke only of peace, he who has introduced eternal war into the world. Finally, there was in his manner an affectation of gentleness, which formed an odious contrast with what was known of his violence. But, after ten years of suffering, enthusiastic attachment to ideas had given way in revolutionary characters to personal hopes and fears. After a certain time old notions return; but the generation which has had a share in great civil troubles is scarcely ever capable of establishing freedom: it is too soiled for the accomplishment of so pure a work.
The French Revolution, after the 18th of Fructidor, had been nothing but a continued succession of men who caused their own ruin by preferring their interest to their duty; thus, at least they gave an important lesson to their successors.
Bonaparte met no obstacles in his way to power. Moreau was not enterprising in civil affairs; Bernadotte eagerly requested the Directors to re-appoint him Minister of War. His appointment was written out, but they had not courage to sign it. Nearly all the military men, therefore, rallied round Bonaparte; for now that they interfered once more in the internal revolutions, they were resolved to place one of their own body at the head of the state, that they might thus secure to themselves the rewards which they wished to obtain.
An article of the constitution which allowed the Council of Ancients to transfer the legislative body to another city than Paris was the means employed to effect the overthrow of the Directory.
The Council of Ancients ordained on the 18th of Brumaire that the legislative body and Council of Five Hundred should, on the following day, remove to Saint Cloud, where the troops might be made to act more easily. On the evening of the 18th the whole city was agitated by the expectation of the great day that was to follow; and without doubt, apprehension of the return of the Jacobins made the majority of people of respectability wish at the time that Bonaparte might have the advantage. My own feelings, I acknowledge, were of a very mixed nature. Once the struggle began, a momentary victory of the Jacobins might occasion fresh scenes of blood; yet I experienced, at the idea of Bonaparte’s triumph, a grief which might be called prophetic.
A friend of mine who was present at the meeting in St. Cloud dispatched messengers to me every hour: at one time he informed me that the Jacobins were on the point of prevailing, and I prepared to quit France anew; the instant afterward I learned that the soldiers had dispersed the national representatives and that Bonaparte had triumphed. I wept, not over liberty, for it never existed in France, but over the hope of that liberty, without which this country can only have disgrace and misery.4 I felt within me at this instant a difficulty of breathing which, I believe, has since become the malady of all those who lived under the authority of Bonaparte.
Different accounts have been given of the manner in which the revolution of the 18th of Brumaire was accomplished. The point of chief importance is to observe on this occasion the characteristic traits of the man who has been for nearly fifteen years the master of the continent of Europe. He went to the bar of the Council of Ancients and wished to draw them into his views by addressing them with warmth and nobility; but he cannot express himself in connected discourse; it is only in conversation that his keen and decisive spirit shows itself to advantage. Besides, as he has no true enthusiasm on any subject, he is never eloquent but in abuse, and nothing was more difficult for him than to confine himself in his address to that kind of respect which is due to an assembly whom we wish to convince. He attempted to say to the Council of Ancients, “I am the God of War and of Fortune, follow me.” But he used these pompous words from mere embarrassment, and in their place would rather have said, “You are all a pack of wretches, and I will have you shot if you do not obey me.”
On the 19th of Brumaire he came to the Council of the Five Hundred, his arms crossed with a very gloomy air, and followed by two tall grenadiers who protected the shortness of his stature. The deputies, who were named Jacobins, uttered violent exclamations when they saw him enter the hall: fortunately for him his brother Lucien was president at the time; it was in vain that he rang the bell to re-establish order; cries of traitor and usurper resounded from every quarter; and one of the members, a countryman of Bonaparte, the Corsican Aréna, approached the general and shook him violently by the collar of his coat. It has been supposed, but without reason, that he had a poignard to kill him.5 His action, however, terrified Bonaparte, who said to the grenadiers by his side, as he let his head drop over the shoulder of one of them, “Get me out of here.” The grenadiers carried him away from among the deputies who surrounded him, and took him from the hall into the open air. He was no sooner out than his presence of mind returned. He instantly mounted on horseback, and passing along the ranks of his grenadiers, soon determined them to what he wished should be done.
In this situation, as in many others, it has been observed that Bonaparte could be thrown into confusion when another danger than that of war was set before him; and from here some persons have ridiculously inferred that he lacked courage. Certainly, his boldness cannot be denied; but as he is nothing, not even brave, in a generous manner, it follows that he never exposes himself but when it may be advantageous. He would be much vexed at the prospect of being killed, for that would be a reverse, and he wishes to be successful in everything; he would likewise be vexed at it because death is disagreeable to the imagination; but he does not hesitate to hazard his life when, according to his views, the game, if I may be allowed the expression, is worth the risk of the stake.
After General Bonaparte left the hall of the Five Hundred, the deputies opposed to him were vehement in demanding that he should be put out of the protection of the law; and it was then that his brother Lucien, president of the Assembly, did him an eminent service by refusing, in spite of all the solicitations with which he was urged, to put that proposition to the vote. If he had consented, the decree would have passed, and no one can tell what impression it might yet have produced on the soldiers. For ten years they had uniformly abandoned those generals whom the legislative power had proscribed; and although the national representation had lost its character of legality by the 18th of Fructidor, the similarity of words often prevails over the diversity of things. General Bonaparte hastened to send an armed force to bring Lucien in safety out of the hall; as soon as he was gone, the grenadiers entered the orangery, where the deputies were assembled, and drove them away by marching from one extremity of the hall to the other, as if there had been nobody present. The deputies, driven against the wall, were forced to escape by the window into the gardens of St. Cloud with their senatorial robes. The representatives of the people had been already proscribed in France; but it was the first time since the Revolution that the civil power had been rendered ridiculous in the presence of the military; and Bonaparte, who wished to establish his dominion on the degradation of bodies as well as on that of individuals, enjoyed his success in destroying at the very outset the dignity of the deputies. From the moment that the moral force of the national representation was annihilated, a legislative body, whatever it might be, was in the eyes of the military a mere assemblage of five hundred men, much less strong and active than a battalion of the same number; and they have since been always ready at the command of their chief to correct diversities of opinion like faults in discipline.
In the Committees of the Five Hundred, Bonaparte, in the presence of the officers of his suite and some friends of the Directory, made a speech which was printed in the journals of the day. It contains a remarkable comparison, which history ought to store up. What have they done, said he, speaking of the Directors, with that France which I left to them so brilliant? I left them peace, and I find war at my return: I left them victories, and I find defeats. What, in short, have they done with the hundred thousand Frenchmen, all of them my acquaintances and my companions in arms, who are now no more? Then all at once concluding his harangue in a calm tone, he added, This state of things cannot last; it would lead us in three years to despotism. He took upon himself the charge of hastening the accomplishment of his prediction.
But would it not be an important lesson for the human species if these Directors, unwarlike as they were, were to rise from their ashes and were to demand of Napoléon to account for the barrier of the Rhine and the Alps conquered by the republic; for the two entries of foreign troops into Paris;6 for the three million Frenchmen who have perished from Cádiz to Moscow;7 and above all, for that sympathy which nations once felt with the cause of liberty in France, and which is now changed into inveterate aversion? The Directors assuredly would not be the more praiseworthy for this; but the conclusion would be that in our days an enlightened nation can do nothing worse than put itself into the hands of a single man. The public has now more sagacity than any individual; and institutions rally opinions more wisely than can be done by circumstances. If the French nation, instead of choosing that baneful foreigner,8 who has exploited it for his own advantage, and exploited it badly even in that regard—if the French nation, at that time so imposing in spite of all her faults, had formed a constitution for herself with a respectful attention to the lessons which ten years of experience had given her, she would still have been the light of the world.
Of the Establishment of the Consular Constitution.
The most potent charm which Bonaparte employed for the establishment of his power was, as we have said, the terror which the very name of Jacobinism inspired, although every person capable of reflection was aware that this scourge could not revive in France. We willingly assume the air of fearing vanquished factions to justify general measures of rigor. All those who wish to favor the establishment of despotism are constantly endeavoring to keep the crimes of demagogues strongly in our recollection. It is an easy strategy which has little difficulty. Accordingly, Bonaparte paralyzed every kind of resistance to his will by these words: Would you have me deliver you up to the Jacobins? France bent before him; nor was there a man bold enough to reply, We will combat both the Jacobins and you. In fine, he was not loved, even at that time, but he was preferred: he has almost always presented himself simultaneously with some other source of alarm, which might cause his power to be accepted as the lesser evil of the two.
The task of discussing with Bonaparte the constitution which was to be proclaimed was entrusted to a commission of fifty members selected from the Five Hundred and from the Ancients.1 Some of those members, who the evening before had leaped from a window to escape from the bayonets, treated seriously the abstract question of new laws, as if it had been possible to suppose that their authority was still respected. This coolness would have been noble had it been joined to energy; but abstract questions were discussed only that tyranny might be established; as in Cromwell’s days, passages of the Bible were sought out to justify absolute power.
Bonaparte allowed these men, accustomed to the tribune, to dissipate in words what remained to them of character; but when their theory approached too near to practice, he cut short every difficulty by a threat of interfering no more in their affairs; that is to say, of bringing them to a conclusion by force. He took considerable pleasure in these tedious discussions, because he is himself very fond of speaking. His species of dissimulation in politics is not silence: he chooses rather to mislead by a perplexed discourse which favors alternately the most opposite opinions. In truth, deceit is often practiced more effectually by speaking than by silence. The least sign betrays those who say nothing; while, on the other hand, the impudence of active lying tends more directly to produce conviction. Bonaparte, therefore, lent himself to the subtleties of a committee which discussed the establishment of a social system like the composition of a book. There was, then, no question of ancient bodies to be treated with respect, of privileges to be preserved, or even of usages to be respected; the Revolution had so cleared away all recollections of the past from France that the plan of the new constitution was not obstructed by any remains of preceding edifices.
Fortunately for Bonaparte, in such a discussion there was no need of profound knowledge; he had only to combat reasonings, a species of weapon with which he played as he liked, and to which he opposed, when his convenience required, a logic in which nothing was intelligible except the declaration of his will. Some have believed that Bonaparte was well informed on every subject, because in this respect, as in many others, he made use of the tricks of quackery. But, as he had read little in the course of his life, his knowledge was confined to what he had picked up in conversation. By accident he may speak to you on any subject whatsoever with exactness, and even with considerable science, if he has met some person who gave him information upon it immediately before; but the next instant you discover that he does not know what every well-educated person has learned in his youth. Doubtless much of a certain kind of talent—the talent of adroitness—is necessary to enable him thus to disguise his ignorance; but none except men enlightened by sincere and regularly pursued studies can entertain just ideas on the government of nations. The old doctrine of perfidy succeeded with Bonaparte only because he added to it the prestige of victory. Without this fatal association, there would not have been two different opinions concerning such a man.
The meetings of Bonaparte with his committee were related to us every evening, and the accounts might have amused, had they not thrown us into a deep sadness as to the future lot of France. The servile spirit of courtiers began to unfold itself in the men who had shown the greatest degree of revolutionary harshness. These ferocious Jacobins were rehearsing the parts of barons and counts, which were allotted to them afterward; and everything announced that their personal interest would be the true Proteus, who would assume at will the most different appearances.
During this discussion, I met a member of the Convention whom I shall not name; for why give names where the truth of the picture does not require it? I expressed to him my worries for liberty: “Oh! Madam,” replied he, “we have come to such a point that we must think of saving, not the principles of the Revolution, but only the men who made it.” This wish certainly was not that of France.
It was expected that Sieyès would present already drafted that famous constitution which had been talked of for ten years as the ark of alliance which was to unite all parties; but by a singular oddity, he had written nothing on the subject. Sieyès’ superiority of talent could not prevail over the misanthropy of his character: he dislikes the human race and cannot deal with it: one might say that he would rather have to do with any other beings than men, and that he renounces all business because he cannot find upon earth a species more to his taste. Bonaparte, who wasted his time neither in the contemplation of abstract ideas nor in being discouraged, perceived very quickly how the system of Sieyès might be useful to him. It was in the very artful annihilation of popular elections. Sieyès substituted for them lists of candidates,2 out of which the Senate was to choose the members of the legislative body and of the Tribunate; for in that constitution there were, I know not for what reason, three bodies, and even four if we reckon the Council of State, of which Bonaparte afterward availed himself so well. When the choice of deputies is not made purely and directly by the people, the government is no longer representative; hereditary institutions may accompany that of election, but it is in election that liberty consists. The important point therefore, for Bonaparte, was to paralyze popular election, because he knew it to be irreconcileable with despotism.
In this constitution, the Tribunate, composed of a hundred persons, was to speak, while the legislative body, which consisted of two hundred and fifty members, was to be silent; but it is not easy to conceive why this permission was given to the one, or this constraint imposed upon the other. The Tribunate and the legislative body were not sufficiently numerous in proportion to the population of France; and all political importance was concentrated in the conservative Senate, which united all authority but that which arises from independence of fortune. The senators had no resources except the appointments which they received from the executive power. The Senate was in effect nothing else than the mask of tyranny; it made the orders of an individual appear as if they had been discussed by many.
When Bonaparte was sure of having to deal only with men dependent on their salaries, who were divided into three bodies and named by one another, he thought himself certain of attaining his end. The glorious name of tribune denoted a pension for five years; the noble appellation of senator meant a benefice for life; and he perceived quickly enough that the one class would wish to acquire what the other would desire to preserve. Bonaparte communicated his will in different tones—sometimes by the sage voice of the Senate, sometimes by the commanded cries of the tribunes, sometimes by the quiet scrutiny of the legislative body; and this tripartite choir was reckoned the organ of the nation, though subject to the absolute control of a single master.
Sieyès’ work was without doubt altered by Bonaparte. His long hawk-eyed sight made him identify and suppress whatever in the proposed institutions might, on a future day, occasion resistance: but Sieyès had ruined liberty by providing any kind of substitute for popular election.
Bonaparte himself would not perhaps have been strong enough to effect at that time so great a change in generally admitted principles; it was necessary that the philosopher should here aid the designs of the usurper. Not assuredly that Sieyès wished to establish tyranny in France; justice requires us to admit that he never took any share in it; and besides, a man of so much talent cannot love the authority of a single individual, unless that individual be himself. But he confused with his metaphysics the very simple question of elections; and it was under the shadow of the clouds thus raised that Bonaparte passed on with impunity to despotism.
Progress of Bonaparte to Absolute Power.
The first symptoms of tyranny cannot be watched too carefully: for when once it has matured to a certain point, it can no longer be stopped. A single man enchains the will of a multitude of individuals, the greater part of whom, taken separately, would wish to be free, but who nevertheless submit because they dread one another and dare not communicate their thoughts freely. A minority not very numerous is often sufficient to resist in succession every portion of the majority which is unacquainted with its own strength.
In spite of the differences of time and place, there are points of resemblance in the history of all nations who have fallen under the yoke. It is generally after long civil troubles that tyranny is established, because it offers the hope of shelter to all the exhausted and timorous factions. Bonaparte said of himself with reason that he could play admirably upon the instrument of power. In truth, as he is attached to no principles, nor restrained by any obstacles, he presents himself in the arena of circumstances like a wrestler, no less supple than vigorous, and discovers at the first glance the points in every man or association of men which may promote his private designs. His scheme for arriving at the dominion of France rested upon three principal bases—to satisfy men’s interests at the expense of their virtues, to deprave public opinion by sophisms, and to give the nation war for an object instead of liberty. We shall see him follow these different paths with uncommon ability. The French, alas! seconded him only too well; yet it is his fatal genius which should be chiefly blamed; for as an arbitrary government had at all times prevented the nation from acquiring fixed ideas upon any subject, Bonaparte set its passions in motion without having to struggle against its principles. He had it in his power to do honor to France and to establish himself firmly by respectable institutions; but his contempt of the human race had quite dried up his soul, and he believed that there was no depth but in the region of evil.
We have already seen him decree a constitution1 in which there existed no guarantees. Besides, he took great care to leave the laws that had been published during the Revolution unrepealed, that he might at his pleasure select from this accursed arsenal the weapon which suited him. The extraordinary commissions, the transportations, the banishments, the slavery of the press, measures unfortunately introduced in the name of liberty, were extremely useful to tyranny. When he employed them, he alleged as a pretext sometimes reasons of state, sometimes the urgency of the conjuncture, sometimes the activity of his adversaries, sometimes the necessity of maintaining tranquillity. Such is the artillery of the phrases by which absolute power is defended, for circumstances never have an end; and in proportion as restraint by illegal measures is increased, the disaffected become more numerous, which serves to justify the necessity of new acts of injustice. The establishment of the sovereignty of law is always deferred till tomorrow, a vicious circle of reasoning from which it is impossible to escape; for the public spirit that is expected to produce liberty can be the outcome only of that very liberty itself.
The constitution gave Bonaparte two colleagues: he chose with singular sagacity, for his assistant consuls, two men who were of no use but to disguise the unity of his despotism: the one was Cambacérès,2 a lawyer of great learning, who had been taught in the convention to bend methodically before terror; the other, Lebrun,3 a man of highly cultivated mind and highly polished manners, who had been trained under the Chancellor Maupeou, under that minister who, not satisfied with the degree of arbitrary power which he found in the monarchy as it then existed, had substituted for the parlements of France one named by himself. Cambacérès was the interpreter of Bonaparte to the revolutionaries, Lebrun to the royalists: both translated the same text into two different languages. Thus two able ministers were charged with the task of adapting the old system and the new to the mixed mass of the third. The one, a great noble who had been engaged in the Revolution, told the royalists that it was their interest to recover monarchical institutions at the expense of renouncing the ancient dynasty. The other, who, though a creature of the era of disaster, was ready to promote the re-establishment of courts, preached to the republicans the necessity of abandoning their political opinions in order to preserve their places. Among these knights of circumstances, the grand master Bonaparte could create such conjunctures as he desired; while the others maneuvered according to the wind with which the genius of the storms had filled their sails.
The political army of the First Consul was composed of deserters from the two parties. The royalists sacrificed to him their fidelity to the Bourbons; the patriots, their attachment to liberty, so that no independent style of thinking could show itself under his dominion; for he was more willing to pardon a selfish calculation than a disinterested opinion. It was by the bad side of the human heart that he hoped to gain possession of it.
Bonaparte took the Tuileries for his abode: and even the choice of this residence was a political calculation. It was there that the King of France was accustomed to be seen; circumstances connected with monarchy were there presented to every eye; the very presence of the walls, if we may say so, was sufficient to re-establish everything. Toward the concluding days of the last century, I saw the First Consul enter the palace built by our kings: and though Bonaparte was still very far from the magnificence which he afterward displayed, there was visible in all around him an eagerness to vie in the courtier arts of Oriental servility, which must have persuaded him that it was a very easy matter to govern the earth. When his carriage arrived in the court of the Tuileries, his valets opened the door and put down the steps with a violence which seemed to say that even inanimate substances were insolent when they retarded his progress for a moment. He neither looked at nor thanked any person, as if he were afraid of being thought sensible to the homage which he required. As he ascended the staircase in the midst of the crowd which pressed to follow him, his eyes were not fixed on any object or any person in particular. There was an air of vagueness and want of thought in his physiognomy, and his looks expressed only what it always becomes him to show—indifference to fortune and disdain for men.
One factor which was singularly favorable to the power of Bonaparte was that he had nothing but the mass of the nation to manage. All individual existence had been annihilated by ten years of tumult,4 and nothing acts upon a people like military success: to resist this inclination on their part instead of profiting by it, a great strength of reason is requisite. Nobody in France could believe his situation secure; men of all classes, whether ruined or enriched, banished or recompensed, found themselves, so to speak, one by one alike in the hands of power. Thousands of Frenchmen were upon the list of emigrants, thousands more had acquired national domains; thousands were proscribed as priests or nobles; and thousands of others feared to be so for their revolutionary deeds. Bonaparte, who constantly marched between two opposite interests, took care not to terminate these inquietudes by fixed laws, which would enable every man to know his rights. To this or that man he gave back his property; from this or that other he took it away forever. A decree concerning the restitution of woods reduced one man to misery while another recovered more than he had originally possessed. Sometimes he restored the estate of the father to the son, or that of the elder brother to the younger, according as he was satisfied or dissatisfied with their attachment to his person. There was not a Frenchman who had not something to ask of the government; and that something was life: for favor then consisted not in the frivolous pleasure which one can impart, but in the hope of revisiting the land in which one was born, and of recovering a part at least of what he once possessed. The First Consul had reserved to himself, under some pretext or other, the power of disposing of the lot of all and of everyone. This unheard-of state of dependence excuses in a great measure the nation. Is universal heroism to be expected? And was there not need of heroism to run the risk of the ruin and the banishment which impended over all by the application of a simple decree? A singular concurrence of circumstances placed the laws of the period of terror and the military force created by republican enthusiasm at the disposal of one man. What an inheritance for an able despot!
Those among the French who sought to resist the continually increasing power of the First Consul had to invoke liberty in order to struggle against him with success. But at this word the aristocrats and the enemies of the Revolution roared out against Jacobinism, and thus seconded the tyranny, the blame of which they have since wished to throw upon their adversaries.
To tranquillize the Jacobins, who had not yet all rallied round that court whose intentions they did not well comprehend, pamphlets were poured forth which declared that there was no reason to apprehend that Bonaparte meant to resemble Caesar, Cromwell, or Monk—obsolete parts, it was said, which were no longer suitable to the age. It is not, however, quite certain that the events of this world do not occur again and again with little variation, though such sameness is forbidden to the authors of new pieces for the stage; but the important object then was to furnish a phrase to all who wished to be decently deceived. French vanity at that time began to concern itself with diplomacy. The whole nation was informed of the secret of the comedy, and, flattered with the confidence, took pleasure in the intelligent reserve which was required of it.
The numerous journals which existed in France were soon subject to the most rigorous, but at the same time the best combined, censorship:5 for it was wholly out of the question to impose silence upon a nation which needed to scatter its words in every direction, just as the Roman people needed to watch the games of the circus. Bonaparte then established that loquacious tyranny from which he has since derived such a great advantage. The daily papers all repeated the same thing constantly, without anyone being allowed to contradict them. The freedom of journals differs in several respects from that of books. The journals announce the news for which all classes of people are eager; and the discovery of printing, instead of being what it has been called, the safeguard of liberty, would be the most terrible weapon of despotism if the journals which constitute the sole reading of three-fourths of the nation were exclusively subject to authority. For, as regular troops are much more dangerous than a militia to the independence of nations, so hired writers introduce into public opinion much more depravity than could arise where there is no communication except by speech; in which case the judgment could be formed only upon facts. But when the curiosity for news can be satisfied with an allotted portion of lies, when no event is related unaccompanied by sophisms, when everyone’s reputation depends on a calumny propagated by gazettes which are multiplied on every side, and when there is not a possibility that any person should be allowed to refute; when opinions concerning every circumstance, every work, every individual, are subject to a journalist’s word of command, as the movements of soldiers to the leaders of files; then it is that the art of printing becomes what has been said of cannon—the last reason of kings.
Bonaparte, when he had a million armed men at his disposal, did not on that account attach less importance to the art of guiding the public mind by the newspapers: he himself often dictated articles for the journals, which might be recognized by the violent jolts of style: one can see that he would have wished to put blows instead of words in what he wrote. There is in every part of his nature a basis of vulgarity which even the gigantic height of his ambition cannot always conceal. It is not the case that he does not know how to conduct himself with perfect propriety on any given day; he is, however, at his ease only when he despises others, and as soon as he can return to that mood, he yields gladly to his inclination. Yet it was not through mere liking that he allowed himself, in his notes for the Moniteur, to employ the cynicism of the Revolution in the support of his power. He would permit none but himself to be a Jacobin in France. And when he inserted in his bulletins gross insults against the most respectable personages, he thought that he should thus captivate the mass of the people and soldiers by descending, in the very purple with which he was arrayed, to the level of their language and passions.
It is impossible to arrive at great power except by taking advantage of the tendency of the times: accordingly Bonaparte studied the spirit of his age with care. There had been among the men of talent of the eighteenth century, in France, a superb enthusiasm for the principles which constitute the happiness and the dignity of mankind; but under the shelter of this great oak, the venomous plants of egoism and irony flourished; and Bonaparte knew how to avail himself with ability of these baneful dispositions. He turned everything, however glorious, into ridicule, except force; shame to the vanquished was the declared maxim of his reign; and accordingly there is only one reproach which we would be tempted to address to the disciples of his doctrine; yet you have not succeeded, for they would not be affected by blame derived from feelings of morality.
It was, however, necessary to give a vital principle to this system of derision and immorality upon which the civil government was founded. These negative forces were insufficient to produce a progressive motion without the impulse of military success. Order in the administration and the finances, the embellishment of cities, the completion of canals and high roads, everything, in short, that has been praiseworthy in the management of the interior, had for its sole bases the money obtained by contributions raised upon foreigners. Nothing less was necessary than the revenues of the Continent6 to procure these advantages for France; and, far from being founded on durable institutions, the apparent grandeur of this Colossus reposed only on feet of clay.
Should England Have Made Peace with Bonaparte at His Accession to the Consulate?
When General Bonaparte was named Consul, people expected peace from him. The nation, fatigued with its long struggle, and at that time sure of confirming its independence with the barrier of the Rhine and the Alps, wished only for tranquillity; but the measures to which it had recourse were certainly ill adapted for the accomplishment of its end. The First Consul, however, took steps toward a reconciliation with England, and the ministry of the day declined his overtures. Perhaps they were in the wrong: for, two years afterward, when Bonaparte had established his power by the victory of Marengo,1 the English government found itself obliged to sign the treaty of Amiens,2 which was in every respect more disadvantageous than that which might have been obtained at a moment when Bonaparte was desirous of a new success, peace with England. Yet I do not join in the opinion of some persons who pretend that if the English ministry had accepted his proposals, Bonaparte would thenceforward have adopted a pacific system. Nothing was more inconsistent with his nature and his interest. He cannot live but in agitation; and if anything can plead on his behalf with those who reflect on human beings, it is that he can breathe freely nowhere except in a volcanic atmosphere; his interest also recommended to him war.
Every man who becomes the chief of a great country by other means than hereditary right will scarcely be able to keep himself in his situation, unless he gives the nation either freedom or military glory, unless he becomes either Washington or a conqueror. Now, as it was difficult to have less resemblance to Washington than Bonaparte had, he could not establish and preserve absolute power except by stupefying reason and presenting to the French, every three months, a new scene, so as by the greatness and variety of events to fill up the place of that honorable but calm emulation which free states are invited to enjoy.
One anecdote will show how, from the first day of Bonaparte’s accession to the Consulship, those around him were aware of the servility with which they must conduct themselves in order to please him. Among the arguments alleged by Lord Grenville3 for not treating with Bonaparte, one was that, as the government of the First Consul depended wholly on himself, a durable peace could not be established on the life of a single individual. These words irritated the First Consul, who could not endure that the chance of his death should be discussed. In fact, he who meets with no obstacle in men becomes indignant against nature, which alone refuses to yield: it is easier for the rest of the world to die; our enemies, often even our friends, in short, our whole lot prepares us for it. The person employed to refute Lord Grenville’s answer in the Moniteur made use of these expressions: “As to the life and the death of Bonaparte, they, my Lord, are above your reach.” It was thus that the people of Rome addressed their emperors by the style of “Your Eternity.” Strange destiny of the human species, condemned by its passions to tread the same circle, while it is constantly advancing in the career of ideas! The treaty of Amiens was concluded when Bonaparte’s successes in Italy made him already master of the Continent; the terms of it were very disadvantageous for the English; and during the year that it lasted, Bonaparte indulged in such formidable encroachments that next to the fault of signing the treaty, that of not breaking it would have been the greatest. At this epoch in 1803, unfortunately for the spirit of freedom in England, and of course on the Continent, to which she serves as a beacon, the opposition, headed by Mr. Fox, followed a path altogether mistaken with respect to Bonaparte; and thenceforward their party, so honorable in other points of view, lost that influence with the nation which for many reasons it would have been desirable that it should have retained. It was already too much to have defended the French Revolution under the Reign of Terror; but it was, if possible, a still more dangerous fault to consider Bonaparte as adhering to the principles of that Revolution, of which he was the ablest destroyer. Sheridan, who by his knowledge and by his talents had the means of establishing his own fame and increasing that of his country, showed clearly to the opposition the part which she ought to play, in the eloquent speech which he delivered on the peace of Amiens.4
“The situation of Bonaparte and the organization of his power, are such,” said Sheridan,
that he must enter into a frightful barter with his subjects. He must promise to make them the masters of the world, that they may consent to be his slaves; and if such be his end, against what power must he turn his restless looks, if not against Great Britain. Some have pretended that he would have no other rivalship with us than that of commerce: happy were this man if he had ever entertained such views of administration; but who could believe it, he follows the old method of prohibitions and excessive taxes. He would wish, however, to arrive at our ruin by a shorter road. He conceives, perhaps, that if this country is once subjugated, he will be able to transport our commerce, our capital, and our credit to his own, as he brought the pictures and statues of Italy to Paris. But his ambitious hopes would be soon deceived: that credit would disappear under the gripe of power; that capital would sink into the earth if it were trampled at the feet of a despot; and those commercial enterprises would be devoid of vigor in the presence of an arbitrary government. If he writes in his tablets some marginal notes relative to what he means to do with the different countries which he has subdued or intends to subdue, the whole text is consecrated to the destruction of our native land. It is his first thought when he awakes; it is his prayer to whatever divinity he addresses, Jupiter or Mahomet, the God of Battles or the Goddess of Reason. An important lesson should be drawn from the arrogance of Bonaparte: he calls himself the instrument of which Providence has made choice to restore happiness to Switzerland, and splendor and importance to Italy; and we too, we should consider him as an instrument whom Providence has chosen to attach us, if possible, more firmly to our constitution, to make us feel the value of the liberty which it secures to us, to annihilate all differences of opinion in the presence of this great interest, in fine, to keep incessantly in our recollection that every man who leaves France and arrives in England thinks he has escaped from a dungeon to breathe the air and the life of independence.
Liberty would now be triumphant in the universal opinion if all who rallied round this noble hope had seen clearly at the commencement of Bonaparte’s reign that the first of the counter-revolutionaries, and the only one who was then formidable, was the man who clothed himself with the national colors that he might re-establish with impunity all that had vanished before them.
The dangers with which the ambition of the First Consul threatened England are marked out with as much truth as force in the speech which we have just quoted. The English ministry is therefore amply justified in having begun the war anew; but, although in the sequel they may have lent more or less countenance to the personal enemies of Bonaparte, they have never gone the length of authorizing an attempt against his life; such an idea did not occur to the leaders of a Christian people. Bonaparte was in great danger from the infernal machine, a mode of assassination the most blamable of all because it threatened the life of a great number of persons at the same time with that of the Consul. But the English ministers had no share in this conspiracy; there is reason to believe that the Chouans, that is to say, the Jacobins of the aristocratic party, were alone guilty. On this occasion,5 however, a hundred and thirty revolutionaries were transported, though they had no concern in the infernal machine. But it seemed natural to take advantage of the alarm which this event caused to get rid of all whom it was desirable to proscribe. A singular mode, we must acknowledge, of treating the human species! The men, it will be said, who were treated thus were odious characters. That may be true; but what though it be? Will France never learn that there is no respect of persons in the eye of the law? The agents of Bonaparte adopted the extravagant principle of striking both parties when one of them was in the wrong; and this they called impartiality. About the same time, a man to whom we may spare the disgrace of being named proposed that all who should be convicted of an attempt against the life of the First Consul should be burned alive. The proposal of cruel punishments seems to belong to another age than ours; but flattery is not always satisfied with platitudes, and meanness very easily becomes ferocity.
Of the Solemn Celebration of the Concordat at Nôtre-Dame.
At the epoch of the accession of Bonaparte the sincerest partisans of the Catholic faith, after having long been victims of a political inquisition, aspired to nothing more than perfect religious liberty. The general wish of the nation was limited to this: that all persecution of priests should cease for the future; that no kind of oath should be required of them any longer; that the state, in short, should in no respect interfere with anyone’s religious opinions. The Consular government, therefore, would have satisfied opinion by maintaining in France a complete toleration, like what exists in America, among a people whose constant piety and severe mores, which are its proof, cannot be called in question. But the First Consul was occupied with no such holy thoughts; he knew that if the clergy resumed a political consistence, their influence would promote the interests of despotism; and his intention was to prepare the way for his arrival at the throne.
He needed a clergy, as he needed chamberlains, titles, decorations, in short, all the ancient caryatides of power; and he alone was in a situation to restore them. Complaints have been made of the return of old institutions; and it must never be forgotten that it was Bonaparte who brought them back. It was he who reorganized the clergy to render them subservient to his designs. The revolutionaries, who, fourteen years ago, were still formidable, would never have allowed a political existence to be thus restored to the priests if a man whom they considered in some respects as one of their party had not assured them, when he presented a concordat with the Pope, that the measure was the result of profound combinations and would be useful in maintaining the new institutions. The revolutionaries, with a few exceptions, are more violent than shrewd, and for that very reason are flattered by being treated as able men.
Bonaparte assuredly is not religious; and the species of superstition of which some traces have been discovered in his character relates solely to the worship of himself. He has faith in his own fortune and has manifested the sentiment in different ways. But from Mahometanism to the religion of the fathers of the desert, from the agrarian law to the ceremonial of the court of Louis XIV, his understanding is ready to conceive, and his character to execute, what circumstances may require. As his natural inclination, however, was toward despotism, he liked what favored it; and he would have preferred the old regime of France more than any person if he could have persuaded the world that he was lineally descended from St. Louis.
He has often expressed his regret that he did not reign in a country where the monarch was also head of the church, as in England and Russia; but as he found the French clergy still devoted to the court of Rome, he chose to negotiate with it. One day he assured the prelates that, in his opinion, there was no religion but the Catholic, which was truly founded on ancient traditions; and on this subject he usually displayed to them some erudition acquired the day before. Then, when he was with the philosophers, he said to Cabanis,1Do you know what this concordat is which I have just signed? It is the vaccination of religion, and in fifty years there will be none in France. It was neither religion nor philosophy which he cared for in the existence of a clergy entirely submissive to his will; but as he had heard mention made of the alliance between the altar and the throne, he began by raising up the altar. The celebration of the concordat was, therefore, if we may use the expression, a full-dressed rehearsal of his coronation.
In the month of April, 1802, he ordered a grand ceremony at Nôtre-Dame. He was present with regal pomp and named for orator at this inauguration, whom? the Archbishop of Aix, the same who had delivered the coronation sermon in the cathedral of Rheims on the day when Louis XVI was crowned. Two motives determined him to this choice: the ingenious hope that the more he imitated the monarchy, the more he suggested the idea of himself being invested with it; and the perfidious design of so degrading the Archbishop of Aix as to render him wholly dependent and give the world the measure of his own ascendancy. He has always wished, when the thing was possible, that a man of note, in adhering to him, should do some action blamable enough to ruin him in the esteem of every other party. To burn one’s ships was to make a sacrifice of reputation to him: he wished to convert men into a sort of coin which derives its value only from the impress of the master; subsequent events have proved that this coin could return into circulation with a fresh image.
On the day of the concordat, Bonaparte went to the church of Nôtre-Dame, in the old royal carriages, with the same coachmen, the same footmen walking by the side of the door; he had the whole etiquette of the court most minutely detailed to him; and though first consul of a republic, applied to himself all this pomp of royalty. Nothing, I allow, ever excited in me so strong a feeling of resentment. I had shut myself up in my house that I might not behold the odious spectacle; but I heard the discharges of cannon which were celebrating the servitude of the French people. For was there not something peculiarly disgraceful in having overturned the ancient regal institutions, surrounded at least with noble recollections, to take back the same institutions in the forms of upstarts and with the chains of despotism? On that day we might have addressed to the French the beautiful words of Milton to his countrymen: We shall become the shame of free nations, and the plaything of those which are not free; is this, strangers will say, the edifice of liberty which the English boasted of building? They have done nothing but precisely what was requisite to render them forever ridiculous in the eyes of all Europe.2 The English at least have not fulfilled this prediction.
In returning from Nôtre-Dame, the First Consul said in the midst of his generals, Is it not true that today everything appeared restored to the ancient order? “Yes,” was the noble reply of one of them,3 “except two million Frenchmen, who have died for liberty and who cannot be brought to life.” Millions more have perished since, but for despotism.
The French are bitterly accused of irreligion. One of the principal causes of this unhappy result is that the various factions for twenty-five years have always wished to direct religion to a political end, and nothing is less favorable to piety than to employ it for any other end than itself. The nobler its sentiments are in their own nature, the more repugnance they inspire when hypocrisy and ambition take advantage of them. After Bonaparte was Emperor, he appointed the same Archbishop of Aix of whom we have been speaking to the Archbishopric of Tours: the Archbishop, in turn, in one of his pastoral charges, exhorted the nation to acknowledge Napoléon as legitimate sovereign of France. The minister who had the superintendence of religious affairs, while he was walking with a friend of mine, showed him this charge and said: “See, he calls the Emperor great, generous, illustrious: all that is very well; but legitimate is the important word in the mouth of a priest.” During twelve years from the date of the concordat, the ecclesiastics of every rank have never let an opportunity pass of praising Bonaparte in their way; that is, by calling him the envoy of God, the instrument of his decrees, the representative of Providence upon earth. The same priests have since doubtless preached another doctrine; but how can it be supposed that a clergy, always at the orders of the existing authority, whatever that may be, should add to the ascendency of religion over the soul?
The catechism which was received in every church during the reign of Bonaparte threatened with eternal punishment whoever should not love and defend the dynasty of Napoléon. If you do not love Napoléon and his family, said the catechism (which, with this exception, was the catechism of Bossuet), what will happen to you? Answer: Then we shall incur everlasting damnation.* Was it to be believed, however, that Bonaparte would dispose of hell in the next world because he gave the idea of it in the present? The truth is that nations have no sincere piety, except in countries where the doctrine of the church is unconnected with political dogmas, in countries where the priests exercise no power over the state, in countries, in short, where a man may love God and Christianity with all his soul without losing, and still more without obtaining, any worldly advantage by the manifestation of this sentiment.
M. Necker’s Last Work Under the Consulship of Bonaparte.
M. Necker had a conversation with Bonaparte as he passed into Italy by Mount St. Bernard a little time before the battle of Marengo; during this conversation, which lasted two hours, the First Consul made a rather agreeable impression on my father by the confidential way in which he spoke to him of his future plans. No personal resentment therefore animated M. Necker against Bonaparte when he published his book entitled Last Political and Financial Views.1 The death of the Duc d’Enghien had not yet occurred; many people hoped for much benefit from the government of Bonaparte; and M. Necker was in two respects dependent upon him: both because he was desirous that I should not be banished from Paris, where I loved to live, and because his deposit of two million was still in the hands of the government, in other words, of the First Consul. But M. Necker, in his retirement, had imposed the propagation of truth as an official duty upon himself, the obligations of which no motive could induce him to neglect. He wished order and freedom, monarchy and a representative government to be given to France; and as often as any deviation from this line occurred, he thought it his duty to employ his talent as a writer, and his knowledge as a statesman, to endeavor to bring back men’s minds toward this goal. At that time, however, regarding Bonaparte as the defender of order and the preserver of France from anarchy, he called him the necessary man,2 and in several passages of his books praised his abilities again and again with the highest expressions of esteem. But this praise did not pacify the First Consul. M. Necker had touched upon the point which his ambition felt most acutely by discussing the project he had formed of establishing a monarchy in France of which he was to be the head, and of surrounding himself with a nobility of his own creation. Bonaparte did not wish that his design should be announced before it was accomplished; still less was he disposed to allow its faults to be pointed out. Accordingly, as soon as this work appeared, the journalists received orders to attack it with the greatest fury. Bonaparte distinguished M. Necker as the principal author of the Revolution: for if he loved this Revolution because it had set him on the throne, he hated it by his instinct of despotism: he would have wished to have the effect without the cause. Besides, his genius in hatred sagaciously suggested to him that M. Necker, who suffered more than anyone from the misfortunes which had struck so many respectable people in France, would be deeply wounded by being designated, though in the most unjust manner, as the man who had prepared them.
No claim for the restoration of my father’s deposit was admitted after the publication of his book in 1802; and the First Consul declared, in the circle of his court, that he would not permit me to return to Paris anymore because, he said, I had given my father such false information on the state of France. Assuredly my father had no need of me for anything in this world, except, I hope, for my affection; and when I arrived at Coppet, his manuscript was already in the press.3 It is curious to observe what it was in this book that could excite so keenly the resentment of the First Consul.
In the first part of his work,4 M. Necker analyzed the consular constitution as it then existed, and examined also the hypothesis of the royalty established by Bonaparte as it might then be foreseen. He laid it down as a maxim that there is no representative system without direct election by the people, and that nothing authorizes a deviation from this principle.5 Then proceeding to examine the aristocratical institution which was to serve as a barrier between the national representation and the executive power, M. Necker judged beforehand the Conservative Senate to be what it has since shown itself, a body to whom everything would be referred and which could do nothing, a body which received on the first of every month salaries from the very government it was supposed to control. The senators were necessarily mere commentators on the will of the Consul.6 A numerous assembly became conjointly responsible for the acts of an individual; and everyone felt more at liberty to degrade himself under the shadow of the majority.
M. Necker then foretold the suppression of the Tribunate as it took place under the Consulate. “The tribunes,” he said,
will think twice of it before they render themselves troublesome or run the risk of displeasing a senate which every year must fix their political lot and perpetuate them or not in their places. The constitution, in giving the Conservative Senate the right of renewing annually the legislative body and the Tribunate by fifths, does not explain in what manner the operation is to be executed: it does not say whether the fifth which is to give way to another shall be determined by lot or by the arbitrary selection of the Senate. It cannot be doubted that when a right of seniority shall be established, the fifth which ranks first in point of time should be selected to go out at the end of five years, and each of the other fifths in a succession arranged on the same principle. But the question is still very important when applied merely to the members of the Tribunate and of the legislative body, who are chosen together at the outset of the constitution; and if the Senate, without having recourse to lot, should assume the right of naming at pleasure the fifth which is to go out annually during five years (this is what it did), freedom of opinion will be henceforth restrained in a very powerful manner.
There is truly a singular disproportion in the power given to the Conservative Senate: it can remove from the Tribunate whomsoever it shall think fit, as far as one-fifth of the whole; yet it is not itself authorized to act in the preservation or defense of the constitution, unless by the advice and direction of the Tribunate. What a superiority in one sense, what an inferiority in the other! No part of the structure seems to have been built with symmetry.*7
On this point I would venture to dissent from my father’s opinion; there was a kind of unity in this incoherent organization; it aimed constantly and craftily at resembling liberty while it was introducing slavery. Ill-contrived constitutions are well calculated to effect such a result; but that always proceeds from the evil intention of the framer; for every sincere mind knows today in what the natural and spontaneous springs of liberty consist.
Then passing to the examination of the mute legislative body, of which we have already spoken, M. Necker says, with respect to the power of introducing laws,
The government, by an exclusive appropriation, is alone to propose laws. The English would deem themselves ruined as a free people if the exercise of such a right were taken away from their parliament, if the most important and most civic prerogative were ever to escape from their hands. The monarch himself shares in it only indirectly and through the medium of those members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, who are at the same time his ministers.
The representatives of the nation, who come from all parts of a kingdom or republic to assemble annually in the capital, and who again return to their homes in the intervals between their sessions, necessarily collect valuable notions on the improvements of which the administration of the state is susceptible. Besides, the power of proposing laws is a political faculty, fruitful in social ideas and of universal utility. In order to exercise it, it requires an investigating spirit and patriotic soul, whilst, to accept or refuse a law, judgment alone is necessary. Such was the limited office of the ancient parlements of France. Reduced to this function, and unable to judge of objects except one by one, they never acquired general ideas.†8
The Tribunate9 was instituted to denounce all kinds of arbitrary proceedings: imprisonments, banishments, blows aimed at the liberty of the press. M. Necker shows that as its election depended on the Senate, and not on the people, it was not strong enough for such a function. However, as the First Consul meant to give it many occasions of complaint, he preferred the suppression of it, whatever might be its tameness. The name alone was too republican for the ears of Bonaparte.
It is thus that M. Necker afterward expresses himself on the responsibility of the agents of power:
Let us in the meantime point out an arrangement of more real consequence, though in a way quite opposite to all ideas of responsibility, and meant to declare the agents of government independent. The consular constitution says that all agents of the government, besides ministers, cannot be prosecuted for acts relative to their functions, but in virtue of a decision of the Council of State; and then the prosecution is carried on before the ordinary tribunals. Let us observe in the first place that in virtue of a decision of the Council of State, and in virtue of a decision of the First Consul, are two things that amount to the same; for the Council does not of its own accord deliberate upon any subject; the Consul, who names and dismisses the members at his will, takes their opinions, either assembled in a body or, more frequently, distributed into sections, according to the nature of the business; and in the last resort, his own decision is the rule. But this is of little importance; the principal object of the arrangement which I have stated is to exempt the agents of the government from every species of inspection and prosecution on the part of the tribunals without the consent of the government itself. Thus, however audaciously, however scandalously a receiver or assessor of taxes may prevaricate, the First Consul must determine, before anything can be done, whether there is ground of accusation. In like manner he will be the sole judge if other agents of his authority deserve to be called to account for any abuse of power; it is of no importance whether the abuse relates to contributions, to requisitions of personal labor, to supplies of any kind, to the quartering of soldiers, and to forced enlistments, designated by the name of conscription. Never has a moderate government been able to exist on such terms. I shall not here adduce the example of England, where such political laws would be considered as a total dissolution of freedom; but I will say that under the ancient French monarchy, neither a parliament nor an inferior court of justice would have asked the consent of the prince to punish the acknowledged misconduct of a public agent or a manifest abuse of power; a particular tribunal, under the name of The Court of Aids, had the ordinary jurisdiction over claims and offenses concerning the revenue, and had no need of a special permission to discharge this duty in all its extent.
In fine, Agent of Government is too vague an expression; authority in its immense circumference may have ordinary and extraordinary agents; a letter of a minister, of a prefect, of a lieutenant of police, is sufficient to constitute an agent; and if in the exercise of their functions they are all out of the reach of justice, without a special permission from the prince, the government will have in its hands men whom such an exemption will render very bold, and who will likewise be sheltered from shame by their direct dependence on the supreme authority. What chosen instruments for tyranny!10
Might we not say that M. Necker, when he wrote these words in 1802, foresaw what the Emperor has since done with his Council of State? We have seen the functions of the judicial order pass gradually into the hands of that administrative authority, which was without responsibility as it was without bounds; we have even seen it usurp the prerogatives of legislation; and this divan had only its master to dread.
M. Necker, after having proved that there was no Republic in France under the Consular government, easily concluded that it was Bonaparte’s intention to arrive at royalty; and he then developed in a very forcible manner the difficulty of establishing a moderate monarchy,11 without having recourse to great nobles previously existing, who are usually inseparable from a prince of ancient lineage. Military glory may certainly supply the place of ancestors; it acts upon the imagination even more powerfully than recollections; but as a king must surround himself with superior ranks, it is impossible to find a sufficient number of citizens illustrious by their exploits to constitute an aristocracy altogether new which may serve as a barrier to the authority which had created it. Nations are not Pygmalions who adore their own work; and the Senate, composed of new men chosen from among a crowd of equals, had no consciousness of energy and inspired no respect.
Let us hear on this topic M. Necker’s own words. They apply to the Chamber of Peers, such as it was hastily constituted by Bonaparte in 1815;12 but they apply especially to the military government of Napoléon, which, however, in 1802, was very far from being established as we have since seen it.
If then, either by a political revolution or by a revolution in opinion, you have lost the elements which produce great nobles, consider yourselves as having lost the elements which produce moderate hereditary monarchy and turn your views, whatever difficulties you may encounter, to another social system.
I do not believe that Bonaparte, with all his talent, all his genius, and all his power, could succeed in establishing at the present day in France a moderate hereditary monarchy. The opinion is important: I shall allege my reasons; let others judge.
I wish at the outset to observe that this opinion is contrary to what we have heard repeated since the election of Bonaparte. France, it was often said, is about to have recourse to the government of one man; that is a point gained for monarchy. But what do such words mean? nothing at all. For we do not wish to speak indifferently of monarchy elective or hereditary, despotic or moderate, but solely of moderate hereditary monarchy; and without doubt the government of any Asiatic prince that you may choose to name is more distinct from the monarchy of England, than the American Republic.13
There is an instrument, unconnected with republican ideas, unconnected with the principles of moderate monarchy, which may be used for the establishment and support of a hereditary government. It is the same which placed and perpetuated the imperial sway in the hands of the great families of Rome, the Julii, the Claudii, the Flavii, and which was afterward employed to subvert their authority: I mean military force—the praetorian guards, the armies of the East and West. May heaven save France from a similar destiny!14
What a prophecy! If I have insisted several times on the singular merit which M. Necker has had in his political works of predicting events, it is to show how a man deeply versed in the science of constitutions may know their result beforehand. It has been often said in France that constitutions are nothing and circumstances everything. Such language becomes the worshippers of arbitrary power, but the assertion is as false as it is slavish.
The resentment of Bonaparte at the publication of this work was extremely keen, because it drew an early attention to his dearest projects, and those which were the most exposed to the attacks of ridicule. A sphinx of a new species, he turned his wrath against the man who solved his riddles. The importance which arises from military glory may, it is true, supply everything: but an empire founded on the chances of battles was not enough for the ambition of Bonaparte; he wished to establish his dynasty, although he could in his lifetime support only his own greatness.
The Consul Le Brun wrote to M. Necker a letter, dictated by Bonaparte, in which all the arrogance of ancient prejudices was combined with the rude harshness of the new despotism. In it M. Necker was likewise accused of having been the man who caused a double number of deputies to be allowed to the Third Estate, of having constantly the same scheme of constitution, etc. The enemies of freedom hold all the same language, however different the situation from which they proceed. M. Necker was then advised to meddle no more with politics, and to leave them to the First Consul, who only was capable of governing France with wisdom; thus despots always consider thinking men to be superfluous in affairs. The Consul finished with declaring that I, the daughter of M. Necker, should be exiled from Paris merely on account of the Last Views on Politics and Finances published by my father.15
I have since, I hope, merited this exile by my own conduct; but Bonaparte, who took the trouble of inquiring that he might wound more effectually, wished to disturb the privacy of our domestic life by holding up my father to me as the author of my exile. This reflection occurred to my father, who gave ready admission to every scruple; but, thanks to Heaven, he was able to satisfy himself that it never for an instant haunted me.
A very remarkable thing in the last and perhaps the best political work of M. Necker is that, after having in preceding books combated with much force the republican system in France, he examines for the first time what would be the best form that could be given to that kind of government.16 On the one hand, the sentiments of opposition to the despotism of Bonaparte, which animated M. Necker, inclined him to employ the only weapons that could still reach such an adversary; on the other, at a moment when there was no reason to dread the danger of exciting the public mind too keenly, a political philosopher amused himself with examining a most important question to the full extent of the truth.
The most remarkable idea in this examination is that, when once we decide in favor of a republic, instead of wishing to bring it as near to a monarchy as possible, we should, on the contrary, place all its strength in popular elements. As the dignity of such an institution reposes only on the assent of the nation, the power which, in this case, is to fill the place of every other should be made to appear in a variety of forms. This profound maxim is the basis of that scheme of a republic of which M. Necker details all the parts—though with the often repeated caution that he would not advise a great country to adopt it.
He concludes his last work with some general considerations on finances.17 They contain two essential truths: First, the consular government was in a much better situation in this respect than the king of France had ever been, because on the one hand, the increase of territory increased the receipts, while on the other, the reduction of the debt diminished the expenses; and, besides, the taxes were more productive, though the people were less burdened, by reason of the suppression of tithes and feudal rights. In the second place, M. Necker affirmed, in 1802, that credit could never exist without a free constitution: not, assuredly, that the lenders of the present day have an enthusiastic love of liberty, but because the calculation of their interest teaches them that confidence can be put only in durable institutions, and not in ministers of finance, whom caprice has chosen, whom caprice may remove, and who, in the retirement of their closet, decide upon what is just and unjust without ever being illuminated by the broad daylight of public opinion.
Bonaparte, in truth, maintained his finances by the produce of foreign contributions and by the revenue of his conquests; but he could not have borrowed freely the most inconsiderable portion of the sums which he collected by force. It would be good advice to sovereigns in general who wish to know the truth with respect to their government, that they should judge rather from the manner in which their loans are filled up than from the testimony of their flatterers.
Though Bonaparte could find in M. Necker’s work no words concerning himself which were not flattering, he let loose against him with unheard-of bitterness the journals which were all at his command; and from that time this system of calumny has never ceased. The same writers, under different colors, have never varied in their hatred against a man who was the advocate of the most rigid economy in the finances and of such institutions in government as compel rulers to be just.
Among all the prerogatives of authority, one of the most favorable to tyranny is the power of banishing without trial. The lettres de cachet of the Old Regime had been justly held forth as one of the most urgent motives for effecting a revolution in France: yet it was Bonaparte, the chosen man of the people, who, trampling underfoot all the principles the support of which had caused the popular insurrection, assumed the power of banishing whoever displeased him even a little, and of imprisoning without any interference on the part of the tribunals whoever displeased him more. I can understand, I admit, how the greater part of the old courtiers rallied round the political system of Bonaparte; they had only one concession to make to him, that of changing their master. But how could the republicans submit to his tyranny—the republicans, whom every word, every act, every decree of his government must have shocked?
A very considerable number of men and women of different opinions have suffered by these decrees of exile, which give the sovereign of the state a more absolute authority than even that which can result from illegal imprisonments. For it is more difficult to carry into effect a violent measure than to exert a species of power which, though terrible in reality, has something benign in its form. The imagination clings to an insurmountable obstacle; great men—Themistocles, Cicero, Bolingbroke, were extremely wretched in exile; Bolingbroke,1 in particular, declares in his writings that death seemed to him less terrible.
To remove a man or a woman from Paris, to send them, as it was then called, to breathe the air of the country, was designating a severe punishment by such gentle expressions that the flatterers of power turned it easily into derison. Yet the fear of such an exile was sufficient to make all the inhabitants of the principal city of the empire incline toward servitude. The scaffolds may at last rouse resistance; but domestic vexations of every kind which are the result of banishment weaken resistance and cause you to dread only the displeasure of the sovereign who can impose upon you so wretched an existence. You may pass your life voluntarily out of your own country: but when you are constrained to do so, you are incessantly imagining that the objects of your affection may be sick, while you are not permitted to be near them and will perhaps never see them again. The affections of your choice, often family affections too, your habits of society, the interests of your fortune, are all compromised; and what is still more cruel, every tie is relaxed and you finally become a stranger in your native land.
I have often thought, during the twelve years of exile to which Bonaparte condemned me, that he could not feel the misfortune of being deprived of France. He had no French recollections in his heart. The rocks of Corsica alone retraced to him the days of his infancy; but the daughter of M. Necker was more French than he. I reserve for another work,2 of which several passages are already written, all the circumstances of my exile, and of the journeys, even to the confines of Asia, which were the consequences of it. But as I have almost forbidden myself to draw portraits of living characters, I could not give to the history of an individual the kind of interest which it ought to have. In the meantime, I must limit myself to retracing what may enter with propriety into the general plan of this work.
I discovered sooner than others (and I am proud of it) the tyrannical character and designs of Bonaparte. The true friends of liberty are guided in such subjects by an instinct which does not deceive them. To render my situation at the beginning of the consulship still more painful, people of fashion in France thought that they saw in Bonaparte the man who saved them from anarchy or Jacobinism; and they therefore blamed strongly the spirit of opposition which I exhibited against him. Whoever in politics foresees tomorrow excites the resentment of those who think only of today. More courage, I will venture to say, was requisite to support the persecution of society than to encounter that of power.
I have always retained the recollection of one of these drawing-room punishments, if I may so express myself, which the French aristocrats know so well how to inflict on those who do not participate in their opinions. A great part of the ancient nobility had rallied round Bonaparte; some, as has since appeared, to resume the habits of courtiers; others in the hope that the First Consul would restore the old dynasty. It was known that I had declared myself decidedly against the system of government which Napoléon was following and was preparing; and the partisans of arbitrary power gave, as usual, the name of antisocial to opinions which tend to exalt the dignity of nations. If some of the emigrants who returned under the reign of Bonaparte were to call to mind the fury with which they then blamed the friends of liberty who continued always attached to the same system, perhaps they would learn indulgence by recollecting their errors.
I was the first woman whom Bonaparte exiled; but a great number, adherents of opposite opinions, soon shared my fate. Among others, a very interesting personage, the Duchess de Chevreuse,3 died of grief occasioned by her exile. She could not, when at the point of death, obtain permission from Napoléon to return once more to Paris to consult her physician and enjoy a last sight of her friends. Whence proceeded this luxury in mischief, if not from a sort of hatred against all independent beings? And as women, on the one hand, could in no respect promote his political designs, while on the other hand they were less accessible than men to the hopes and fears of which power is the dispenser, they gave him a dislike for rebels, and he took pleasure in addressing to them vulgar and injurious words. He hated the spirit of chivalry as much as he sought after etiquette—a bad selection undoubtedly from the manners of ancient days. He likewise retained from his early habits during the Revolution a Jacobinical antipathy to the brilliant society of Paris, over which the women exercised a great ascendancy; he dreaded in them the art of pleasantry which, it must be allowed, belongs particularly to French women. Had Bonaparte been satisfied with acting the proud part of a great general and first magistrate of the republic, he would have soared in all the height of his genius far above the small but pointed shafts of drawing-room wit. But when he entertained the design of becoming an upstart king, a citizen gentleman upon the throne, he exposed himself as a fine aim to the mockery of fashion; and to restrain it, as he has done, he was obliged to have recourse to terror and the employment of spies.
Bonaparte wished me to praise him in my writings, not assuredly that any additional praise would have been remarked in the fumes of the incense which surrounded him; but he was vexed that I should be the only writer of reputation in France who had published books during his reign without making any mention of his gigantic existence, and at last with inconceivable rage he suppressed my work on Germany.4 Till then my disgrace had consisted merely in my removal from Paris; but from that time I was forbidden to travel and was threatened with imprisonment for the remainder of my days. The contagion of exile, the noble invention of the Roman emperors, was the most cruel aggravation of this punishment. They who came to see the banished exposed themselves to banishment in their turn; the greater part of the Frenchmen with whom I was acquainted avoided me, as if I had been tainted with a pestilence. This appeared to me like a comedy when the pain it gave was not extreme; and as travelers under quarantine mischievously throw their handkerchiefs to the passers-by, to compel them to share in the wearisome sameness of their confinement, so when I happened to meet a man of Bonaparte’s court in the streets of Geneva I was tempted to terrify him by my polite attentions.
My generous friend, M. Matthieu de Montmorenci, had come to see me at Coppet and received, four days after his arrival, a lettre de cachet, by which he was banished as a punishment for having given the consolation of his presence to a woman who had been his friend for twenty-five years. I know not what I would not have done at this moment to avoid such a pain. At the same time Madame Recamier, who took no concern in politics beyond a courageous interest for the proscribed of all opinions, came also to see me at Coppet, where we had met several times already. And would it be believed? The most beautiful woman in France, who on this ground alone should have found defenders everywhere, was exiled because she had come to the country seat of an unfortunate friend a hundred and fifty leagues from Paris. This coalition of two women settled on the shore of the lake of Geneva appeared too formidable to the master of the world, and he incurred the ridicule of persecuting them. But he had once said, Power is never ridiculous, and assuredly he put this maxim thoroughly to the proof.
How many families have we not seen divided by the fear which was caused by the slightest connections with the exiled? At the commencement of the tyranny, there were some distinguished examples of courage, but vexation gradually alters our sentiments; we are exhausted by constant opposition, and we begin to think that the disgraces of our friends are occasioned by their own faults. The sages of the family assemble to say that there must not be too much communication kept up with Mr. or Mrs. such a one; their excellent sentiments, it is declared, cannot be doubted, but their imagination is so lively! In truth they would willingly proclaim all these poor proscribed sufferers to be great poets on condition that their imprudence be admitted as a reason for neither seeing them nor writing to them. Thus friendship, and even love, are frozen in every heart; private qualities fall with the public virtues; men no longer care for one another, after having ceased to care for their country; and they learn only to employ a hypocritical language which contains a softened condemnation of those who are out of favor, a skillful apology for the powerful and the concealed doctrine of egoism.
Bonaparte had above every other man the secret of producing that cold isolation which presented men to him individually and never collectively. He was unwilling that a single person of his time should exist by his own means, that a marriage should be celebrated, a fortune acquired, a residence chosen, a talent exercised, or any resolution taken without his leave; and, what is remarkable, he entered into the minutest details of the relations of each individual, so as to unite the empire of the conqueror to the inquisition of the gossip, and to hold in his hands the finest threads as well as the strongest chains.
The metaphysical question of the free will of man became altogether useless under the reign of Bonaparte; for no person could any longer follow his own will, either in the most important circumstances or in the most trifling.
Of the Last Days of M. Necker.
I would not speak of the feeling which the death of my father produced in me were it not an additional means of making him known. When the political opinions of a statesman are still in many respects the subject of debate in the world, we should not neglect to give to his principles the sanction of his character. Now what better proof can be given than the impression which it produced upon the people, who were most qualified to judge him? It is now twelve years since death separated me from my father, and every day my admiration of him has increased; the recollection which I have retained of his talents and virtues serves me as a point of comparison to appreciate the worth of other men; and though I have traversed all Europe, a genius of the same style, a moral principle of the same vigor, has never come within my way. M. Necker might be feeble from goodness and wavering from reflection; but when he believed that duty was concerned in a resolution, he thought that he heard the voice of God; and whatever attempts might be made to shake him, he listened only to it. I have even now more confidence in the least of his words than I should have in any individual alive, however superior that individual might be. Everything that M. Necker has said is firm in me as a rock; what I have gained myself may disappear; the identity of my being consists in the attachment which I bear to his memory. I have loved those whom I love no more; I have esteemed those whom I esteem no more; the waves of life have carried all away, except this mighty shade whom I see upon the summit of the mountain, pointing out to me with its finger the life to come.
I owe no real gratitude on earth but to God and my father; the remainder of my days has passed in contention; he alone poured his blessing over them. But how much has he not suffered! The most brilliant prosperity distinguished one-half of his life; he was rich; he had been named prime minister of France; the unbounded attachment of Frenchmen had recompensed him for his devotedness to their cause. During the seven years of his first retirement, his works had been placed in the first class of those of statesmen, and perhaps he was the only individual who had shown himself profoundly skilled in the art of governing a great country without ever deviating from the most scrupulous morality or even the most refined delicacy. As a religious writer,1 he had never ceased to be a philosopher; as a philosopher, he had never ceased to be religious; eloquence had not hurried him away beyond the limits of reason, nor had reason ever deprived him of a single emotion of true eloquence. To these great advantages he had joined the most flattering success in society: Madame du Deffant,2 who was acknowledged to have more lively smartness of conversation than any other woman in France, declared in her letters that she had met with no man more pleasing than M. Necker. He too possessed the same charm of conversation, but he employed it only among his friends. In fine, the universal opinion of France in 1789 was that no minister had ever carried further every kind of talent and virtue. There is not a city, not a town, not a corporation in France from which we have not addresses expressing this sentiment. I transcribe here from among a thousand others that which was written to the republic of Geneva by the city of Valence.
Amid the enthusiasm of liberty which inflames the whole French nation, and which penetrates us with a deep sense of the goodness of our august monarch, we have thought that we owe you a tribute of gratitude. It was in the bosom of your republic that M. Necker first saw the light; it was in the abode of your public virtues that his heart was trained to the practice of all those of which he has given us an affecting spectacle; it was in the school of your good principles that he imbibed that gentle and consoling morality which strengthens confidence, inspires respect, and prescribes obedience to legitimate authority. It was likewise among you, gentlemen, that his soul acquired that firm and vigorous temper which the statesman needs when he devotes himself with intrepidity to the painful duty of laboring for the public good.
Penetrated with veneration for so many different qualities, the union of which in M. Necker exalts our admiration, we think that we owe to the citizens of Geneva a public testimony of our gratitude for having formed in its bosom a minister so perfect in every respect.
We desire that our letter may be recorded in the registers of your republic, that it may be a lasting monument of our veneration for your respectable fellow-citizen.
Alas! could it have been foreseen that so much admiration would be followed by so much injustice; that he who cherished France with a predilection almost too great would be reproached with entertaining the sentiments of a stranger; that one party would call him the author of the Revolution because he respected the rights of the nation, and that the leaders of that nation would accuse him of having wished to sacrifice it to the defense of the monarchy? So in former times, as I am fond of repeating, the Chancellor de l’Hôpital was alternately threatened by the Catholics and the Protestants; so Sully3 would have sunk under party hatred if the firmness of his master had not supported him. But neither of these statesmen had that lively imagination of the heart which renders us accessible to every kind of pain. M. Necker was calm before God, calm at the approach of death, because at that instant conscience alone spoke. But while he was yet occupied with the interests of this world, there was not a reproach which did not hurt him, not an enemy whose ill-will did not wound him, not a day in which he did not subject himself to twenty different examinations, sometimes to accuse himself of evils which he could not have prevented, sometimes to place himself in the rear of events and weigh anew the different resolutions which he might have taken. The purest enjoyments of life were poisoned to him by the unprecedented persecutions of party spirit. This party spirit showed itself even in the manner in which the emigrants, in the time of their distress, applied to him for aid. Several, when they wrote to him on this subject, apologized for not being able to visit him because the chief man among them had forbidden them to do so. They judged well at least of M. Necker’s generosity when they believed that this submission to the impertinence of their leaders would not prevent him from doing them service.
The slavery of the press, among other inconveniencies, placed literary decisions in the hands of the government. The consequence was that by means of the journalists, the police disposed, for the time at least, of the literary success of a writer in the same way as it granted licenses for gambling. Accordingly the writings of M. Necker during the concluding period of his life were not judged impartially in France; and this was an additional evil which he had to bear in his retirement. The last but one of his works, entitled A Course of Religious Morality, is, I venture to affirm, one of the best-written devotional books, one of the strongest in thought and eloquence, of which the Protestants can boast; and I have often found it in the hands of persons whose hearts have been stricken with sorrow. Yet the journals under Bonaparte made scarcely any mention of it; and the little that they said gave no correct idea of it. There have been in like manner in other countries some examples of masterpieces in literature which were not rightly estimated till long after the death of their author. It is painful to reflect that one who was so dear to us was deprived even of the pleasure which his talents as a writer indisputedly deserved.
He beheld not the day of justice shine forth for his memory, and his life ended in the very year4 in which Bonaparte was about to declare himself Emperor, that is, at an epoch when no kind of virtue was held in honor in France. Such was the delicacy of his soul that the reflection which tormented him during his last illness was the fear of having been the cause of my exile; and I was not near to restore him to confidence. He wrote to Bonaparte with a feeble hand, requesting him to recall me when he should be no more. I sent this sacred request to the Emperor; he returned no answer: magnanimity always appeared to him affectation, and he spoke of it pretty freely as a virtue only of the drama; had he known its powerful influence, he would have been at once a better and an abler man. After so many sorrows and the exercise of so many virtues, the capacity for affection appeared to have increased in my father at the age when it diminishes in other men; and everything about him announced that when he ceased to live he returned to Heaven.
Abstract of M. Necker’s Principles on Government.
It has been often said that religion is necessary for the people; and I think it easy to prove that men of an exalted rank have still more need of it. The same is true of morality in its connections with politics. Men have never been weary of repeating that it suits individuals, and not nations; the truth, on the contrary, is that it is to the government of states that fixed principles are especially applicable. As the existence of this or that individual is fleeting and transitory, it sometimes happens that a bad action is useful to him for the moment in a conjuncture where his personal interest is compromised; but as nations are durable, they cannot disregard the general and permanent laws of intellectual order without proceeding to their ruin. The injustice which may be advantageous to one man by way of exception is always injurious to successions of men, whose lot must necessarily fall under the general rule. But the circumstance which has given some currency to the infernal maxim which places politics above morality is that the leaders of the state have been confounded with the state itself. These chiefs have often experienced that it was more convenient and advantageous for them to extricate themselves at any price from a present difficulty; and they have drawn out into principles the measures to which their selfishness or their incapacity induced them to have recourse. A man embarrassed in his affairs would willingly establish the theory that borrowing at interest is the best financial system which can be adopted. Now immorality of every kind is also borrowing at interest; it saves for the moment and ruins later.
M. Necker, during his first ministry, was not in a situation to think of the establishment of a representative government. In proposing courts of provincial administration, he wished to set a limit to the power of ministers and to give influence to enlightened men and rich proprietors in all parts of France. M. Necker’s first maxim in government was to avoid arbitrary power and to limit the action of the ministry in everything that was not necessary to the maintenance of order. A minister who wishes to do everything, to order everything, and who is jealous of power as a personal enjoyment, is fit for courts but not for nations. A man of genius, when such a man finds himself by chance at the head of public affairs, should try to render himself useless. Good institutions embody and establish those lofty ideas which no individual, whoever he may be, can put in action for more than a short time.
To hatred of arbitrary power M. Necker joined great respect for opinion and a deep interest for that abstract, yet real being called the people, which has not ceased to be the object of pity, though it has shown itself to be formidable. He believed it was necessary to secure to the people knowledge and comfort, two inseparable blessings. He did not wish to sacrifice the nation to privileged casts; but he was at the same time of the opinion that ancient customs should be dealt with gently on account of new circumstances. He believed in the necessity of distinctions in society, that the rudeness of power might be diminished by the voluntary ascendancy of consideration; but aristocracy, according to his conception, was an institution intended to excite the emulation of all men of merit.
M. Necker hated wars of ambition, estimated very highly the resources of France, and believed that such a country, governed by the wisdom of a true national representation and not by the intrigues of courtiers, had nothing to desire or fear in the middle of Europe.
However beautiful, it will be said, the doctrine of M. Necker might be, it has not succeeded, and therefore was not adapted to men as they are. An individual may not obtain from heaven the favor of aiding the triumph of the truths which he proclaims; but are they the less truths on that account? Though Galileo was thrown into prison, have not the laws of nature discovered by him been since universally acknowledged? Morality and freedom are as certainly the only bases of the happiness and dignity of the human race as the system of Galileo is the true theory of the celestial motions.
Consider the power of England: whence does it proceed? from her virtues and her constitution. Suppose for a moment that this island, now so prosperous, were all at once deprived of her laws, of her public spirit, of the freedom of the press, of her parliament, which derives its strength from the people and gives them back its own in return, how her fields would be dried up! How her harbors would be forsaken! The very agents of arbitrary power, unable any longer to obtain their subsidies from a country without credit and without patriotism, would regret the liberty which for so long a time had at least supplied them with treasures.
The misfortunes of the Revolution resulted from the unreflecting resistance of the privileged ranks to what reason and force demanded; this question is still debated after twenty-seven years. The dangers of the struggle are lessened because the parties are weaker, but its issue will be the same.1 M. Necker disdained Machiavellianism in politics, quackery in finances, and arbitrary power in government. He thought that the highest talent consisted in bringing society into harmony with the immutable though silent laws to which the Divinity has subjected human nature. On this ground he may be attacked: for it is the ground on which, if he were alive, he would still place himself.
He did not plume himself on that kind of talent which is requisite to constitute the leader of a faction or a despot; he had too much order in his understanding, and too much peace in his soul, to be fit for those great irregularities of nature which swallow up the age and the country in which they appear. But if he had been born an Englishman, I say with pride that no minister would ever have surpassed him; for he was a firmer friend to liberty than Mr. Pitt, more austere than Mr. Fox, and not less eloquent, not less energetic, nor less penetrated with the dignity of the state than Lord Chatham. Ah! why was he not permitted, like that nobleman, to utter his last words in the senate of his country, in the midst of a nation which can judge, which can be grateful, and whose enthusiasm, far from being the presage of slavery, is the recompense of virtue!
In the meantime, let us return to the examination of that political personage who forms the most complete contrast to the principles which we have just sketched; and let us see whether Bonaparte himself does not help to prove the truth of those principles, which alone could have maintained him in power and preserved the glory of the French name.
Bonaparte Emperor. The Counter-revolution Effected by him.
When Bonaparte, at the close of the last century, put himself at the head of the French people, the whole nation desired a free and constitutional government. The nobles, long exiled from France, aspired only to return in peace to their homes; the Catholic clergy invoked toleration; as the republican warriors had effaced by their exploits the splendor of the distinctions of nobility, the feudal race of ancient conquerors respected the new victors, and a revolution had taken place in the public mind. Europe was willing to resign to France the barrier of the Rhine and the Alps; and the only thing that remained was to secure these advantages by repairing the evils which the acquisition of them had brought along with it. But Bonaparte conceived the idea of effecting a counter-revolution to his own advantage by retaining in the state nothing new except himself. He re-established the throne, the clergy, and the nobility; a monarchy, as Mr. Pitt said, without legitimacy and without imitation; a clergy who were only the preachers of despotism; a nobility composed of old and new families who exercised no magistracy in the state and served only as a gaudy decoration of arbitrary power.1
Bonaparte opened the door to ancient prejudices, flattering himself that he could arrest them precisely at the point which suited his omnipotence. It has been often said that he would have kept his place if he had been moderate. But what is meant by moderate? If he had established with sincerity and dignity the English constitution in France, he would doubtless still have been emperor. His victories made him a prince; it was his love of etiquette, his thirst for flattery, titles, decorations, chamberlains, that made re-appear in him the character of an upstart. But however rash his system of conquest might be, from the moment that his soul became so miserable as to see no grandeur except in despotism, it was perhaps impossible for him to do without continual wars; for what would a despot be without military glory in a country like France? Could the nation be oppressed in the interior without giving it the fatal compensation of ruling elsewhere in its turn? Absolute power is the scourge of the human race; and all the French governments which have succeeded the Constituent Assembly have perished by yielding to this seduction under some pretext or other.
At the moment when Bonaparte wished to be named emperor, he believed it was necessary to give new confidence, on the one hand, to the revolutionaries with respect to the possibility of the return of the Bourbons, and on the other, to prove to the royalists that in attaching themselves to him, they separated themselves irremediably from the cause of the ancient dynasty. It was to accomplish this double end that he perpetrated the murder of a prince of the blood, the Duke d’Enghien.2 He passed the Rubicon of crime, and from that day his downfall was written in the book of destiny.
One of the Machiavellian politicians of the court of Bonaparte said on this occasion that the assassination of D’Enghien was much worse than a crime, for it was a fault. I have, I acknowledge, a profound contempt for all those politicians whose talent consists in showing themselves superior to virtue. Let them for once show themselves superior to egoism; that will be more uncommon, and even more ingenious.
Nevertheless, those who blamed the murder of the Duke d’Enghien as a bad speculation were right even in this view of the matter. The revolutionaries and the royalists, in spite of the terrible cement of innocent blood, did not deem themselves irrevocably united to the lot of their master. He had made interest the deity of his partisans; and the partisans of his doctrine practiced it against himself when misfortune struck him.
In the spring of 1804, after the death of the Duke d’Enghien and the abominable prosecution of Moreau and Pichegru, when every mind was filled with a terror which might in an instant be changed into revolt, Bonaparte sent for some senators with whom he conversed with affected negligence on the proposition which had been made to him of declaring himself emperor, treating it as a matter on which he had not yet come to a fixed resolution. He reviewed the different lines of conduct which might be adopted for France—a republic, the recall of the ancient dynasty, lastly, the creation of a new monarchy; like a person conversing on the affairs of another and examining them with perfect impartiality. Those who talked with him resisted with the most vehement energy every time he exhibited arguments in favor of any other power than his own. At last, Bonaparte allowed himself to be convinced: Very well, said he, since you believe that my nomination to the title of Emperor is necessary to the happiness of France, take at least precautions against my tyranny—Yes, I repeat it, against my tyranny. Who knows if, in the situation in which I am about to be placed, I shall not be tempted to abuse my power?
The senators went away moved by this amiable candor, the consequences of which were the suppression of the Tribunate, all-complaisant as it was; the establishment of the exclusive power of the Council of State as an instrument in the hand of Bonaparte; the government of the police, a permanent body of spies; and, in the sequel, seven state prisons where those who were confined could be judged by no tribunal, as their lot depended merely on the decision of the ministers.3
To maintain such a tyranny, it was necessary to satisfy the ambition of all who would engage in its support. The contributions of the whole of Europe afforded scarcely a sufficient supply of money; and accordingly Bonaparte sought other treasures in vanity.
The principal moving power of the French Revolution was the love of equality. Equality in the eye of the law partakes of justice, and consequently of liberty: but the desire of annihilating every superior rank is one of the pettinesses of self-love. Bonaparte well knew the influence of this failing in France, and this is the mode in which he availed himself of it. The men who had participated in the Revolution were not willing that there should be classes above them. Bonaparte rallied them round his standard by promising them the titles and dignities of which they had stripped the nobles. “Do you wish for equality?” said he to them. “I will do better still, I will give you inequality in your own favor: MM. de la Trémouille, de Montmorency, &c. will be, according to law, private citizens of the state, while the titles of the old regime and the offices at court will be possessed, if it so pleases the Emperor, by the most vulgar names.” What a strange idea! Would not one have thought that a nation so prompt at laying hold of improprieties would have delivered itself up to the inextinguishable laugh of the gods of Homer at seeing all those republicans disguised as dukes, counts, and barons, and making their attempts in the study of the manners of great lords, like men repeating a part in a play? A few songs indeed were composed on these upstarts of every kind, kings and footmen; but the splendor of victories and the force of despotism made everything succeed, for some years, at least. Those republicans who had been seen disdaining the rewards given by our monarchs had no longer room enough upon their coats for the broad badges, German, Italian, and Russian, that bedecked them. A military order, the iron crown,4 or the Legion of Honor might be accepted by warriors, in whom such distinctions recalled their wounds and their exploits; but did the ribbons and keys of a chamberlain, with all the other apparatus of courts, suit men who had stirred heaven and earth to abolish such vain pomp? An English caricature represents Bonaparte as cutting up the red cap of liberty into shreds to make a grand cordon of the Legion of Honor. How exact an image of the nobility invented by Bonaparte, who could boast of nothing but the favor of their master! The French troops can no longer be regarded but as the soldiers of an individual, after having once been the defenders of the nation. Ah! how great were they then!
Bonaparte had read history in a confused way; little accustomed to study, he made much less use of what he had learned from books than of what he had picked up by his observation of men. There remained, however, in his head a certain respect for Attila and Charlemagne, for feudal laws and Oriental despotism, which he applied indiscriminately, never making a mistake as to what would instantaneously promote his power, but on other points quoting, blaming, praising, reasoning, as chance conducted him. He would speak in this way for hours together, with so much the more advantage that nobody interrupted him, except by the involuntary applauses which always burst forth on such occasions. It is a singular circumstance that, in conversation, several of Bonaparte’s officers have borrowed from their leader this heroical gabble, which in truth has no meaning but at the head of eight hundred thousand men.
Bonaparte, therefore, to make at once a Carolingian and an Oriental empire, bethought himself of creating fiefs in the countries conquered by him, and of investing with them his generals or principal ministers. He fixed the rights of primogeniture, he issued decrees concerning substitutions, he did one the service of concealing his former situation under the unknown title of Duke of Rovigo;5 while, on the contrary, by taking away from Macdonald,6 from Bernadotte, from Massena,7 the names which they had rendered illustrious by so many noble exploits, he as it were defrauded renown of its rights and remained alone, as he desired, in possession of the military glory of France.
It was not enough to have degraded the republican party by entirely changing its nature; Bonaparte wished also to deprive the royalists of that dignity which they owed to their perseverance and their misfortunes. He gave the greater part of the offices of his household to nobles of the Old Regime. He thus flattered the new race by mingling them with the old, and as he himself united the vanity of an upstart to the gigantic talents of a conqueror, he loved the flattery of the courtiers of the former reign because they were more skillful in that art than the new men, whatever might be the eagerness of the latter to distinguish themselves in the same career. As often as a gentleman of the old court called back to recollection the etiquette of the days that were gone and proposed an additional bow, a certain mode of knocking at the door of an antechamber, a more ceremonious manner of presenting a dispatch, of folding a letter, or concluding it with such or such a form, he was received as if he had made a contribution to the happiness of the human race. The code of imperial etiquette is the most remarkable document of the meanness to which the human race may be reduced. The followers of Machiavellian principles will say that it is in this way that men must be deceived; but is it true that men are deceived in our days? Bonaparte was obeyed (let us not cease to repeat it) because he gave military glory to France. Whether that was a benefit or the contrary, it was at least a clear and unsophisticated fact. But all the Chinese farces which were played off before his car of triumph were agreeable only to his servants, whom, had it been convenient for him, he might have led in a hundred other ways. Bonaparte frequently took his court for his empire; he liked better to be treated as a prince than as a hero; perhaps, at the bottom of his soul, he was conscious that he had more right to the first of these titles than to the second.
The partisans of the Stuarts, when the crown was offered to Cromwell, took their ground upon the principles of the friends of liberty to oppose him, and it was not till the epoch of the Restoration that they resumed the doctrine of absolute power; but at least they remained faithful to the ancient dynasty. A great part of the French nobility hastened to the courts of Bonaparte and his family. When a man of very high birth was reproached for having become chamberlain to one of the princesses, But what would you have me to do? he said. I must serve someone. What a reply! Does it not contain the full condemnation of governments founded upon the spirit of a court?
The English nobles preserved much more dignity in their civil disturbances; for they did not commit two enormous faults from which the French nobles cannot easily exculpate themselves: the one, that of having joined foreigners against their own country; the other, that of having accepted places in the palace of a man who, according to their maxims, had no right to the throne; for the election of the people, supposing that Bonaparte could have alleged it in his favor, was not in their eyes a legitimate title. Assuredly they have no right to be intolerant after such proofs of compliance; and less injury is done, in my opinion, to the illustrious House of Bourbon by wishing for constitutional limits to the authority of the throne than by having held places under a new sovereign tainted by the assassination of a youthful warrior of the ancient race.
Could the French nobles who served Bonaparte in the employments of the palace pretend that they were constrained to do so? Far more petitions were refused than places given; and those who did not choose to submit to the desires of Bonaparte in this respect were not obliged to make part of his court. Adrian and Mathieu de Montmorency, whose names and characters drew attention, Elzear de Sabran, the Duke and Duchess of Duras, several others also, though not in great numbers, would have no concern with employments offered by Bonaparte; and although courage is requisite to resist that torrent which in France carries everything in the direction of power, these courageous persons preserved their virtuous pride without being obliged to renounce their country. In general, to do nothing is almost always possible, and it is proper it should be so, since there is no excuse for acting contrary to one’s principles.
There were certainly none of the French nobles who fought in the armies like the courtiers who were personally connected with the dynasty of Bonaparte. Warriors, whoever they are, may allege a thousand excuses, and better than excuses, according to the motives which influenced them and the conduct which they followed. For at every epoch of the Revolution France has existed; and surely the first duties of a citizen are to his country.
Never had a man the art of multiplying the ties of dependence more ably than Bonaparte. He surpassed everybody in his knowledge of the great and the little means of despotism; he concerned himself perseveringly with the dress of the women, that their husbands, ruined by their expenses, might be obliged to have recourse to him more frequently. He wished likewise to strike the imaginations of the French by the pomp of his court. The old soldier who smoked at the door of Frederick II was sufficient to make him respected by all Europe. Bonaparte without doubt had enough of military talents to obtain the same result by the same means; but to be master was not all that he desired: he wished also to be a tyrant; to oppress Europe and France, one had to resort to all the means of degrading the human species; and accordingly the wretch has succeeded but too well!
In life, the balance of human motives to good or evil is usually in equilibrium, and it is conscience which decides. But, when under Bonaparte, more than forty million sterling of revenue and eight hundred thousand armed men threw their weight into the scale of bad actions, when the sword of Brennus was on the same side with the gold to make the balance incline; how powerful was the seduction! Yet the calculations of ambition and avarice would not have been sufficient to render France submissive to Bonaparte; something great is required to excite masses of people, and it was military glory which intoxicated the nation while the nets of despotism were spread out by some men whose meanness and corruption cannot be sufficiently emphasized. They treated constitutional principles as a chimera, like the courtiers of the old governments of Europe, whose places they aspired to occupy. But their master, as we shall soon see, coveted more than the crown of France, and did not limit himself to that bourgeois despotism with which his civil agents would have wished him to be satisfied at home, that is to say, among us.
Of the Conduct of Napoléon Toward the Continent of Europe.
Two very different plans of conduct presented themselves to Bonaparte when he was crowned Emperor of France. He might confine himself to the barrier of the Rhine and the Alps, which Europe did not dispute with him after the battle of Marengo, and render France, thus enlarged, the most powerful empire in the world. The example of constitutional liberty in France would have acted gradually, but with certainty, on the rest of Europe. It would no longer have been said that freedom is suitable only for England because it is an island; or for Holland because it is a plain; or for Switzerland because it is a mountainous country; and a Continental monarchy would have been seen flourishing under the shadow of the law, than which there is nothing more holy upon earth except the religion from which it emanates.
Many men of genius have exerted all their efforts to do a little good and to leave some traces of their institutions behind them. Destiny, in its prodigality toward Bonaparte, put into his hands a nation at that time containing forty million men, a nation whose amiable manners gave it a powerful influence on the opinions and taste of Europe. An able ruler at the opening of the present century might have rendered France happy and free without any effort, merely by a few virtues. Napoléon is guilty no less for the good which he has not done than for the evils of which he is accused.
In short, if his devouring activity felt itself restrained in the finest monarchy in the world, if to be merely Emperor of France was too pitiful a lot for a Corsican who, in 1790, was a second lieutenant, he should at least have stirred up Europe by the pretext of some great advantages to herself. The re-establishment of Poland, the independence of Italy, and the deliverance of Greece were schemes that had an air of grandeur; peoples might have felt an interest in the revival of other peoples. But was the earth to be inundated with blood that Prince Jerome might fill the place of the Elector of Hesse;1 and that the Germans might be governed by French rulers who took to themselves fiefs of which they could scarcely pronounce the titles, though they bore them, but on the revenues of which they easily laid hold in every language? Why should Germany have submitted to French influence? This influence communicated no new knowledge and established no liberal institutions within her limits, except contributions and conscriptions still heavier than all that had been imposed by her ancient masters. There were, without doubt, many reasonable changes to be made in the constitutions of Germany; all enlightened men knew it; and for a long time accordingly they had shown themselves favorable to the cause of France, because they hoped to derive from her an improvement of their own condition. But without speaking of the just indignation which every people must feel at the sight of foreign soldiers in their territory, Bonaparte did nothing in Germany but with the view of establishing there his own power and that of his family: was such a nation made to serve as a footstool to his vanity? Spain too could not but reject with horror the perfidious means which Bonaparte employed to enslave her. What, then, did he offer to the empires which he wished to subjugate? Was it liberty? Was it strength? Was it riches? No; it was himself, always himself, with whom the world was to be regaled in exchange for every earthly blessing.
The Italians, in the confused hope of being finally united in one state; the unfortunate Poles, who implore Hell as well as Heaven that they may again become a people, were the only nations who served the Emperor voluntarily. But he had such a horror for the love of liberty that, though he needed the Poles as auxiliaries, he hated in them the noble enthusiasm which condemned them to obey him. This man, so able in the arts of dissimulation, could not avail himself even hypocritically of the patriotic sentiments from which he might have drawn so many resources; he could not handle such a weapon, and he was always afraid lest it be shattered in his hand. At Posen, the Polish deputies came to offer him their fortunes and their lives for the re-establishment of Poland. Napoléon answered them with that gloomy voice and that hurried declamation which have been remarked in him when under constraint, consisting of a few words about liberty, well or ill put together, which cost him such an effort that it was the only lie which he could not pronounce with apparent ease. Even when the applauses of the people were in his favor, the people were still disagreeable to him. This instinct of despotism made him raise a throne without foundation and forced him to fail in what was his vocation here below, the establishment of political reform.
The means of the Emperor to enslave Europe were audacity in war and shrewdness in peace. He signed treaties when his enemies were half beaten, that he might not drive them to despair, but yet weaken them so much that the axe which remained in the trunk of the tree might cause it at length to perish. He gained some friends among the old sovereigns by showing himself in everything the enemy of freedom. Accordingly, it was the nations who finally rose up against him; for he had offended them more even than kings. Yet it is surprising still to find partisans of Bonaparte elsewhere than among the French, to whom he at least gave victory as a compensation for despotism. His partisans, especially in Italy, were in general friends of liberty who had erroneously flattered themselves with obtaining it from him, and who would still prefer any great event to the dejection into which they are now fallen. Without wishing to enter upon the interests of foreigners, of which we have determined not to speak, we may venture to affirm that the particular benefits conferred by Bonaparte, the high roads necessary to his projects, the monuments consecrated to his glory, some remains of the liberal institutions of the Constituent Assembly, of which he occasionally permitted the application outside France, such as the improvement of jurisprudence and public education, or the encouragements given to the sciences: all these benefits, desirable as they might be, could not compensate for the degrading yoke that placed a burden on the character of the people. What superior genius has been developed during his reign, or will be developed for a long time to come, in the countries where he ruled? If he had desired the triumph of a wise and dignified liberty, energy would have been displayed on every side, and a new impulse would have animated the civilized world. But Bonaparte has not procured for France the friendship of a single nation. He has made up marriages, rounded and united provinces, remodeled geographical maps, and counted souls, in the manner since received, to complete the dominions of princes; but where has he implanted those political principles which are the ramparts, the treasures, and the glory of England? those institutions which are invincible after a duration of even ten years; for they have by that time produced so much happiness that they rally all the citizens of a country in their defense?
Of the Means Employed by Bonaparte to Attack England.
If there is any glimpse of a plan in the truly incoherent proceedings of Bonaparte toward foreign nations, it was that of establishing a universal monarchy, of which he was to be declared the head, giving kingdoms and duchies as fiefs, and re-instituting the feudal system as it was formerly established by conquest. It does not even appear that he meant to limit himself to the boundaries of Europe, and his views certainly reached as far as Asia. In short, his inclination was to march constantly forward, as long as he met with no obstacles; but he had not calculated that, in so vast an enterprise, an obstacle might not only arrest his progress but entirely destroy the edifice of an unnatural prosperity, which would be annihilated the moment that it ceased to ascend.
To make the French nation support war, which, like all nations, desired peace—to oblige foreign troops to follow the banners of France, a motive was necessary which might in appearance, at least, connect itself with the public good. We have endeavored to show in the preceding chapter that, if Napoléon had taken the liberty of nations for his standard, he would have aroused Europe without employing the means of terror; but his imperial power would have gained nothing, and he certainly was not a man to conduct himself by disinterested sentiments. He wanted a rallying word which might make people believe that he had the advantage and independence of Europe in view, and he chose the freedom of the seas. The perseverance and financial resources of the English were without doubt obstacles to his projects, and he had besides a natural aversion to their free institutions and the haughtiness of their character. But what was particularly convenient for him was to replace the doctrine of representative government, founded on the respect due to nations, with mercantile and commercial interests, on which men may speak without end, reason without limits, and never attain the object. The motto of the unfortunate periods of the French revolution, Liberty and Equality, gave the people an impulse which could not be agreeable to Bonaparte; but the motto of his banner—The Liberty of the Seas—conducted him wherever he wished, and made the voyage to the Indies as necessary as the most reasonable peace, if such a peace should be suddenly for his advantage. Lastly, he had in these rallying words the singular advantage of animating the mind without directing it against power. M. de Gentz1 and M. A. W. de Schlegel,2 in their writings upon the Continental system, have treated completely of the advantages and disadvantages of the maritime ascendancy of England when Europe is in its ordinary situation. But it is at least certain that this ascendancy, a few years ago, was the only balance to the dominion of Bonaparte, and that there would not have remained perhaps a single corner of the earth in which a sufferer could have escaped from his tyranny if the English ocean had not encircled the Continent with its protecting arms.
But, it will be said, though we admire the English, yet France must always be the rival of their power; and at all times her leaders have endeavored to combat them. There is only one way of being the equal of England, and that is by imitating her. If Bonaparte, instead of planning that ridiculous farce of an invasion, which has only served as a subject for English caricatures, and that Continental blockade, a measure more serious, but likewise more fatal; if Bonaparte had wished only to become superior to England in her constitution and her industry, France would now be in possession of a commerce founded upon credit, and of a credit founded upon a national representation and upon the stability which such a representation gives. But the English ministry is unfortunately too well aware that a constitutional monarchy is the sole means of securing durable prosperity to France. When Louis XIV struggled successfully at sea against the English fleets, the financial riches of the two countries were then nearly the same; but since liberty has been consolidated in England for eighty or a hundred years, France cannot bring herself into equilibrium with her rival except by legal securities of the same nature. Instead of taking this truth for his compass, what did Bonaparte do?
The gigantic idea of the Continental blockade was like a species of European crusade against England, of which Napoléon’s scepter was the rallying sign. But if, in the interior, the exclusion of English merchandise gave some encouragement to manufacturers, the ports were deserted and commerce annihilated. Nothing rendered Napoléon more unpopular than that increase in the price of sugar and coffee which affected the daily habits of all classes. By burning in the cities which were subject to him, from Hamburg to Naples, the productions of English industry, he disgusted every witness of these autos-da-fé in honor of despotism. In the public square at Geneva, I saw some poor women throw themselves on their knees before the pile on which the merchandise was burning, with supplications that they might be allowed to snatch in time from the flames some pieces of cotton or woollen stuff to clothe their infants in misery. Such scenes must have occurred everywhere; and though statesmen, in an ironical style, then said that they were of no consequence, they were the living picture of a tyrannical absurdity—the Continental system. What has been the result of the terrible anathema of Bonaparte? The power of England has increased in the four quarters of the globe, her influence over foreign governments has been unlimited; and it ought to be so, considering the magnitude of the evil from which she preserved Europe. Bonaparte, whom the world persists in calling able, has, however, found the awkward art of multiplying everywhere the resources of his adversaries, and in particular of so augmenting those of England that he has not been able to succeed in doing her more perhaps than one single injury (though that one perhaps is the greatest of all)—the injury of increasing her military forces to such a degree that apprehensions might be entertained for her freedom were it not that confidence may be placed in her public spirit.
It cannot be denied that it is very natural for France to envy the prosperity of England; and this sentiment has caused her to allow herself to be deceived with respect to Bonaparte’s attempts to raise her industry to a level with that of England. But is it by armed prohibitions that riches are created? The will of sovereigns can no longer direct the system of commerce and industry among nations: they must be left to their natural development, and their interests must be supported according to their own wishes.3 As a woman does not procure more homage to herself by being angry at that which is offered to her rival, so a nation can succeed in commerce and industry only by finding means of attracting voluntary tributes, and not by proscribing competition.
The official gazette writers were ordered to insult the English nation and government. In the daily papers, absurd appellations, such as perfidious islanders, avaricious merchants, were incessantly repeated, with occasional variations which never deviated too far from the text. In some writings the authors went back as far as William the Conqueror to characterize the battle of Hastings4 as a revolt, and ignorance rendered it easy for baseness to propagate the most pitiful calumnies. Bonaparte’s journalists, to whom no one could reply, disfigured the history, the institutions, and the character of the English nation. This too is one of the scourges arising from the slavery of the press: France has undergone them all.
As Bonaparte had more respect for himself than for those who were under him, he sometimes in conversation allowed himself to say much good of England, either because he wished to prepare men’s minds for a situation in which it would be convenient for him to treat with England, or rather because he wished to escape for a moment from the false language which he imposed upon his servants. It was as much as to say, Let us make our people lie.
On the Spirit of the French Army.
It must not be forgotten that the French army was admirable during the first ten years of the war of the Revolution. The qualities which were wanting in the men employed in the civil career were found in the military: perseverance, devotedness, boldness, and even goodness when their natural disposition was not altered by the impetuosity of attack. The soldiers and officers were often beloved in foreign countries, even where their arms had done mischief; not only did they meet death with that inconceivable energy which will at all times be found in their blood and their heart, but they supported the most horrid privations with unprecedented serenity. The fickleness of which the French are justly accused in political affairs becomes respectable when it is transformed into indifference to danger, and even indifference to pain. The French soldiers smiled in the midst of the most cruel situations and encouraged one another in the agonies of suffering, either by a sentiment of enthusiasm for their country or by a witticism which rekindled the cheerful gaiety to which the very lowest classes of society in France are always alive.
The Revolution had brought the fatal art of recruiting1 to singular perfection; but the good which it had done by rendering every rank accessible to merit excited in the French army an unbounded emulation. It was to these principles of freedom that Bonaparte was indebted for the resources which he employed against liberty herself. Ere long the army under Napoléon retained little of its popular virtues, except its admirable valor and a noble sentiment of national pride; but how much was it fallen, fighting for a single man, while its predecessors, while its own veterans, ten years before, had devoted themselves only for their country! Soon too the troops of almost every Continental nation were forced to combat under the banners of France. What patriotic sentiment could animate the Germans, the Dutch, the Italians, when they had no security for the independence of their native land, or rather when its subjugation bore heavily upon them? They had no common tie except one and the same leader; and on that account nothing was less solid than their association, because enthusiasm for a man, whoever he may be, is necessarily fluctuating; the love only of our country and of freedom cannot change, because it is disinterested in its principle. That which constituted the particular prestige of Napoléon was the idea which was entertained of his fortune; attachment to him was attachment to oneself. A fond belief prevailed with respect to the various kinds of advantages to be obtained under his banners; and as he was both an admirable judge of military merit and knew how to recompense it, any private soldier in the army might nourish the hope of becoming a marshal of France. Titles, births, the services of courtiers had little influence on promotion in the army. There a spirit of equality prevailed in spite of the despotism of the government, because Bonaparte had need of force, which cannot exist without a certain degree of independence. Accordingly, under the Emperor, that which was of most value was assuredly the army. The commissaries who afflicted the conquered countries with contributions, imprisonments, and exile; those clouds of civil agents who came like vultures after the victory to pounce upon the field of battle, did much more to make the French detested than the poor gallant conscripts who passed from childhood to death in the belief that they were defending their country. It belongs to men skilled in the military art to pronounce upon Bonaparte’s talents as a captain. But to judge of him in this respect merely by such observations as are within the reach of everybody, it appears to me that his ardent selfishness perhaps contributed to his early triumphs as it did to his final reverses. In the career of arms, as well as in every other, he was destitute of that respect for men, and of that sentiment of duty, without which nothing great is durable.
Bonaparte, as a general, never spared the blood of his troops; he gained his astonishing victories by a prodigal waste of the soldiers which the Revolution had supplied. By marching without extra ammunition he rendered his movements uncommonly rapid, but he thus doubled the evils of war to the countries which were the theater of action. In short, even the style of his military maneuvers has some connection with the rest of his character: he always risks the whole for the whole, counting on the faults of his enemies, whom he despises, and ready to sacrifice his partisans, for whom he cares little if he does not by their means obtain the victory.
In the Austrian war, in 1809, he quitted the island of Lobau when he judged the battle to be lost, and crossed the Danube in the company only of Marshal Berthier and M. de Czernitchef,2 one of the intrepid aides-de-camp of the Emperor of Russia. Bonaparte said to them, with undisturbed tranquillity, that after having gained forty battles, it was not extraordinary to lose one. When he reached the other side of the river, he went to bed and slept till the morning of the following day, without inquiring after the fate of the French army, which his generals saved while he slept. What a singular trait of character! And yet in the greater part of important occasions there is no man more active or more bold. But it would appear that he cannot sail except with a favorable wind, and that misfortune freezes him completely, as if he had made a magical compact with fate and was unable to proceed without her.
Posterity, and already many of our contemporaries, will object to the adversaries of Bonaparte the enthusiasm with which he inspired his army. We will treat this subject as impartially as possible when we shall have arrived at the fatal return from Elba. Who could deny that Bonaparte was in many respects a man of transcendent genius? He saw as far as the knowledge of evil can extend; but there is something beyond that—the region of good. Military talents are not always a proof of superior intellect; in this career, many accidents may contribute to success; besides, that kind of quick survey of circumstances which is necessary for conducting men in the field of battle has no resemblance to the close and accurate observation which the art of government requires. One of the greatest misfortunes of the human race is the impression which the success of force produces upon the mind. And nonetheless, there will be neither liberty nor morality in the world if we do not bring ourselves to consider a battle like any other transaction in the world, merely according to the goodness of the cause and the utility of the result.
One of the greatest evils done by Napoléon to France was to have given a taste for luxury to those warriors who were so well satisfied with glory in the days when the nation still existed. An intrepid marshal, covered with wounds and impatient for more, demanded for his hotel a bed so covered with gilding and embroidery that there was not to be found in Paris one that came up to his wishes. Very well, said he in his peevishness, give me a truss of straw, I shall sleep well enough upon it. In fact, there is no medium for these men between the pomp of the One Thousand and One Nights and the rigid life to which they were accustomed.
Bonaparte must likewise be accused of having altered the French character by forming it to the habits of dissimulation, of which he gave the example. Many military leaders became diplomats in the school of Napoléon, capable of concealing their true opinions, of studying circumstances, and of bending to them. Their courage remained the same, but everything else was changed. The officers who were most closely attached to the person of the Emperor, far from having preserved the lively courtesy of the French, became cold in their manners, circumspect, disdainful; they gave a slight salutation with the head, spoke little, and seemed to share their master’s contempt for the human species. Soldiers have always generous and natural emotions; but the doctrine of passive obedience which parties, opposite in their interests though in agreement with their maxims, have introduced among their chiefs, has necessarily altered all that was great and patriotic in the troops of France.
An armed force, it is said, ought to be essentially obedient. That is true on the field of battle, in the presence of the enemy, and in relation to military discipline. But could the French be ignorant, or ought they to have been ignorant, that they were sacrificing a nation in Spain? Was it possible or was it right for them not to know that at Moscow they were not defending their homes, and that Europe was in arms only because Bonaparte had successively availed himself of every country in it to enslave the whole? Some people wanted to make the army a kind of corporation, separate from the nation and incapable of union with it. In this case the unfortunate people would always have two enemies, their own troops and those of foreigners, since all the virtues of citizens are forbidden to warriors.
The army of England is as submissive to discipline as that of the most absolute state of Europe; but the officers do not therefore make less use of their reason, both as citizens, by taking part when they return home in the public concerns of their country; and as soldiers, by knowing and respecting the empire of the law in what regards them. An English officer would never arrest an individual, nor fire upon the people in commotion, till the forms ordained by the constitution had been observed. There is an intention of despotism whenever there is a wish to forbid men to use the reason which God has given them. Obedience to their oath, it will be said, is sufficient; but what is there which requires the employment of reason more than the knowledge of the duties attached to this very oath? Is it to be believed that the oath taken to Bonaparte could oblige any officer to carry off the Duc d’Enghien from the foreign land which ought to have been an asylum to him? Whenever maxims opposed to liberal sentiments are established, it is for the purpose of using them as a battery against our adversaries, but on condition that these adversaries do not employ them in return against us. It is only knowledge and justice which gives no ground of apprehension to any party. What, then, is the result of this emphatical maxim: The army should not judge but obey? The result is that in civil troubles the army always determines the lot of empires, but determines ill, because it is excluded from the use of reason. It was in consequence of this blind obedience to its leaders, which the French army had been taught to esteem a duty, that it supported the government of Bonaparte; yet how much has it been blamed for not overturning his power! Civil bodies, to justify their servility to the Emperor, laid the blame upon the army; and it is easy to make the partisans of absolute power, who usually are not very strict logicians, say in the same breath, first that military men should never have an opinion upon any political subject, and next that they are very blamable for having lent themselves as instruments to the unjust wars of Bonaparte. Surely those who shed their blood for the state have some right to know whether it is for the state that they really fight. Not that the army should be the government; Heaven defend us from such an evil! But if the army ought to keep itself apart from all public affairs in all that concerns their habitual direction, the freedom of the country is not the less under its protection; and when despotism endeavors to obtain the mastery, it should refuse to support it. What! it will be said, would you have the army deliberate? If you give the name of deliberation to a knowledge of its duty and to the employment of its faculties in fulfilling its obligations, I shall reply that if you forbid it today to reason against your orders, you will be dissatisfied tomorrow that it did not reason against the orders of another. All the parties which require, in politics as in faith, the renunciation of the exercise of thought, mean only that, whatever happens, we should think as they do. Yet, when soldiers are transformed into machines, we have no right to complain if these machines yield to force. In governing men, it is impossible to succeed without the influence of opinion. The army, like every other association, ought to know that it constitutes a part of a free state, and that it ought to defend the constitution established by law for and against all. Must not the French army bitterly repent at this day of that blind obedience to its chief which has ruined France? If the soldiers had not ceased to be citizens, they would still have been the support of their country.
It must be allowed, however, and with sincerity, that regular troops are an unhappy invention; and if they could be suppressed at once throughout the whole of Europe, mankind would have made a great step toward the perfection of social order. Had Bonaparte stopped in his career after some of his victories, his name and the reputation of the French armies produced at that time such an effect that he might have been satisfied with the National Guard for the defense of the Rhine and the Alps. Every advantage in human affairs was at his disposal; but the lesson which he was destined to give to the world was of another nature.
At the time of the last invasion of France, a general of the Allies declared that every French private citizen would be shot who should be found with arms in his hand; some of the French generals had occasionally been guilty of the same injustice in Germany; and yet the soldiers in regular armies have much less interest in the fate of defensive war than the inhabitants of the country. Were it true, as this general said, that citizens are not permitted to defend themselves against regular troops, all the Spaniards would be guilty and Europe would be still subject to Bonaparte; for it must not be forgotten that the private inhabitants of Spain were the first who commenced the struggle; they were the first who thought that the probability of success was nothing when it was a duty to resist. None of these Spaniards, and, at a subsequent period, none of the Russian peasants, formed part of the regular troops; yet this circumstance only rendered them more worthy of our admiration for the firmness with which they fought for the independence of their country.
Of the Legislation and Administration Under Bonaparte.
The unlimited despotism and the shameless corruption of the civil government under Bonaparte has not yet been sufficiently delineated. It might be supposed that after the torrent of abuse which is always poured forth in France against the vanquished, there would remain no ill to be spoken against a fallen power which the flatterers of the subsequent regime have not exhausted. But as they who attacked Bonaparte wished still to spare the doctrine of despotism; as many of those who load him with reproach today had praised him yesterday, they were obliged, in order to introduce some consistency into conduct in which nothing is systematic except baseness, to carry their outrages even beyond what the man deserves, and yet in many respects to observe a prudent silence on a system from which they still wanted to benefit. The greatest crime of Napoléon, however, that for which every man of reflection, every writer qualified to be the dispenser of glory among posterity, will never cease to accuse him before mankind, was the mode in which he established and organized despotism. He founded it on immorality; for so much knowledge was diffused through France that absolute power, which elsewhere rests on ignorance, could there be maintained only by corruption.
Is it possible to speak of legislation in a country where the will of a single man decided everything—where this man, uncertain and fluctuating as the waves of the sea during a tempest, was unable to endure the barriers of his own will if the regulation of the evening was opposed to the next day’s desire of change? A counselor of state once thought proper to represent to him that the resolution which he was about to take was inconsistent with the Code Napoléon. Very well, said he, the Code Napoléon was made for the welfare of the people; and if that welfare requires other measures, we must adopt them. What a pretext for unlimited power is the public welfare! Robespierre did well in giving that name to his government. Shortly after the death of the Duke d’Enghien, while Bonaparte was still troubled at the bottom of his soul by the horror which that assassination had inspired, he said in a conversation upon literature with an artist very capable of forming a judgment upon the subject: “Reason of state, do you observe, has with the moderns supplied the place of the fatalism of the ancients. Corneille is the only French tragic writer who has felt this truth. Had he lived in my time, I would have made him my prime minister.”
There were two kinds of instruments of imperial power, laws and decrees. The laws received the sanction of the semblance of a legislative body; but the real exercise of authority was to be found in the decrees which emanated directly from the Emperor and were discussed in his council. Napoléon left the fine speakers of the Council of State, and the mute deputies of the legislative body, to deliberate and decide on some abstract questions in jurisprudence, with the view of giving his government a false air of philosophical wisdom. But when laws relative to the exercise of power were concerned, all the exceptions, as well as all the rules, were under the jurisdiction of the Emperor. In the Code Napoléon, and even in the criminal code, some good principles remain, derived from the Constituent Assembly: the institution of juries, for instance, the anchor of French Hope—and several improvements in the mode of procedure which have brought that branch of jurisprudence out of the darkness in which it lay before the Revolution, and in which it still lies in several states of Europe. But of what value were legal institutions when extraordinary tribunals named by the Emperor, special courts, and military commissions judged all political offenses—that is to say the very offenses in which the unchangeable aegis of the law is most required? In the succeeding volume we shall show how the English have multiplied precautions in political prosecutions to protect justice more efficaciously from the encroachments of power. What examples has not Bonaparte’s reign exhibited of those extraordinary tribunals, which became habitual! For when one arbitrary act is permitted, the poison spreads itself through all the affairs of the state. Have not rapid and dark executions polluted the soil of France? The military code in all countries except England interferes too much with the civil. But under Bonaparte it was enough to be accused of interfering with the recruitment of soldiers in order to bring the accused before a military commission. It was thus that the Duke d’Enghien was tried. Bonaparte never once left a political offense to the decision of a jury. General Moreau and those who were accused along with him were deprived of that right; but they were fortunately brought before judges who respected their conscience. These judges, however, were not able to prevent the perpetration of iniquities in that horrible trial, and the torture was introduced anew in the nineteenth century by a national chief whose power ought to have emanated from opinion.
Under the reign of Bonaparte, it was difficult to distinguish legislative measures from measures of administration, because both were equally dependent on the supreme authority. On this subject, however, we shall make one main observation. Whenever the improvements of which the different branches of the government were susceptible in no respect struck at the power of Bonaparte, but on the contrary promoted his plans and his glory, he made, in order to effect them, an able use of the immense resources which the dominion of nearly all Europe gave him. And as he possessed a great talent for discovering, among a number of men, those who could be useful instruments of service to him, he generally employed persons very well qualified for the affairs with the care of which they were entrusted. We owe to the imperial government the museums of the arts and the embellishments of Paris, high roads, canals which facilitate the mutual communications of the departments; in short, all that could strike the imagination by showing, as in the Simplon and Mont Cenis, that nature obeyed Bonaparte with almost as much docility as men. These various prodigies were accomplished because he could cause to bear on any particular point the taxes and the labor of eighty million men; but the kings of Egypt and the Roman emperors had, in this respect, equally great titles to glory. In what country did Bonaparte take any concern about the moral development of the people? What means, on the contrary, did he not employ in France to stifle the public spirit which had grown up in spite of the bad governments to which faction had given birth?
All the local authorities in the provinces were gradually suppressed or annulled; there remains in France only one focus of movement—Paris; and the instruction which arises from emulation faded away to nothing in the provinces, while the carelessness with which the schools were kept up completed the consolidation of that ignorance which agrees so well with slavery. Yet as those who are endowed with intellect feel the necessity of exerting it, all who had any talent went immediately to the capital to endeavor to obtain places. Hence proceeds that rage for being employed and pensioned by the state which degrades and devours France. If men had anything to do at home; if they could take a share in the administration of their city or department; if they had an opportunity of making themselves useful there, of gaining consideration, and of cheering themselves with the hope of being one day elected a deputy; we should not see everyone hastening to Paris who can flatter himself with prevailing over his rivals by an intrigue or a flattery the more.1
No employment was left to the free choice of the citizens. Bonaparte took delight in issuing decrees concerning the nomination of doorkeepers and sergeants dated from the first capitals in Europe. He wished to exhibit himself as present everywhere, as sufficient for everything; in fine, as the sole governing being upon earth. It was, however, only by the tricks of a mountebank that a man could succeed in multiplying himself to such a degree; for the substance of power always falls into the hands of the subaltern agents who exercise the details of despotism. In a country where there is neither any intermediate independent body nor freedom of the press, there is one thing which a despot, whatever be the superiority of his genius, can never know; and that is the truth which could be disagreeable to him.
Commerce, credit, all that demands spontaneous activity in the nation and a sure defense against the caprices of government, were ill adapted to the system of Bonaparte. The contributions of foreign countries were its only basis. By treating the public debt with respect, an appearance of good faith was given to the government without actually hindering it very much, given that the sum was so small. But the other creditors of the public treasury knew that their payment or nonpayment was to be considered as a chance, on the determination of which their right was the circumstance which had the least influence. Accordingly nobody thought of lending to the state, however powerful its chief might be; and for the very reason that he was too powerful. The revolutionary decrees accumulated during fifteen years of disorder were taken or let alone according to the exigency of the moment. On every affair there was generally one law on this side and another on that, which the ministers applied according to their convenience. Sophisms, which were a mere article of superfluity, since authority was all-powerful, justified by turns the most opposite measures.
What a shameful establishment was that of the police! This political inquisition has in modern times taken the place of religious inquisition. Was the chief beloved who needed to weigh down the nation with such a bondage? He made use of some to accuse others, and boasted of practicing the old maxim of dividing in order to command which, thanks to the progress of human reason, is now an artifice very easily discovered. The revenue of this police was worthy of its employment. The gaming houses of Paris supplied the funds for its support: and thus it hired vice with the money of the vice which paid it. It escaped public attention by the mystery which enveloped it; but when chance brought into open day a prosecution in which the agents of the police were in some way concerned, is it possible to conceive anything more disgusting, more perfidious, or more mean than the disputes which arose between these wretches? Sometimes they declared that they had professed one opinion to make use secretly of the opposite; sometimes they boasted of the snares which they had prepared to induce malcontents to conspire, with the view of betraying them as soon as a conspiracy was formed; and yet the depositions of such men were received by the tribunals! The unfortunate invention of this police has since been directed against the partisans of Bonaparte in their turn; had they not reason to think that it was the bull of Phalaris,2 of which, after having conceived the fatal idea of it, they were themselves undergoing the punishment?
Of Literature Under Bonaparte.
This very police for which we have not terms contemptuous enough, terms which put a sufficient distance between an honest man and the creature who could enter into such a den, was entrusted by Bonaparte with the charge of directing the public mind in France. In fact, when there is no freedom of the press, and when the power of the police does not confine itself to matters of censorship, but dictates to a whole people the opinions which they are to entertain on politics, on religion, on morals, on books, and on individuals, into what a state must a nation fall which has no other nourishment for its reflections than that which despotic authority permits or prepares? We have therefore no reason to be surprised at the degradation of literature and literary criticism in France. There is certainly nowhere more talent or more quickness in attaining proficiency than among the French. We may see what astonishing progress they are constantly making in the sciences and in erudition, because those two paths have no connection with politics; whilst literature can now produce nothing great without liberty.1 The masterpieces of the age of Louis XIV will be adduced in opposition to us; but the slavery of the press was much less severe under that sovereign than under Bonaparte. Toward the end of the reign of Louis XIV, Fénélon and other reflecting men were already engaged in the discussion of questions essential to the interests of society. Poetical genius in every country exhausts itself periodically and revives only at certain intervals. But the art of prose composition, which is inseparable from thought, embraces necessarily the whole philosophical sphere of ideas; and when men of letters are doomed to wheel about in madrigals and idylls, the dizziness of flattery soon seizes them; and they can produce nothing that will pass beyond the suburbs of the capital and the boundaries of the present time.
The task imposed on writers under Bonaparte was singularly difficult. They were to combat with fury the liberal principles of the Revolution, but were to respect all the interests which depended on it; so that liberty was annihilated while the titles, estates, and offices of the revolutionaries were sacred. Bonaparte one day said, speaking of J. J. Rousseau, He was the cause of the Revolution. For my part, I have no reason to complain of him; for it was in the Revolution that I caught the throne. Such was the language which was to serve as a text for writers to sap incessantly constitutional laws and the everlasting rights on which they are founded, and yet exalt the despotic conqueror who had been produced by the storms of the Revolution, and had afterward calmed them. When religion was concerned, Bonaparte seriously declared in his proclamations that France should distrust the English because they were heretics; but when he wished to justify the persecutions which had been endured by the most venerable and the most moderate of the heads of the church, Pope Pius VII,2 he accused him of fanaticism. The watchword was to denounce as a partisan of anarchy whoever published any kind of philosophical opinion; but if a noble seemed to insinuate that the ancient princes were more skillful than the new in the dignity of courts, he was without fail marked out as a conspirator. In fine, it was necessary to reject all that was valuable in every system of opinions to make up the worst of human plagues, tyranny in a civilized country.
Some writers have endeavored to frame an abstract theory of despotism in order, if I may say so, to whitewash it anew, and so give it an air of philosophical novelty. Others, on behalf of the upstart men, have plunged into Machiavellianism, as if depth were to be found there; and have held up the power of the creatures of the Revolution in the light of a sufficient security against the return of the old governments, as if there were only interests in the world, and the career of the human species had no connection with virtue. All that remains of this trickery is a certain combination of phrases unsupported by any true idea, and yet duly constructed according to the rules of grammar, with verbs, nominatives, and accusatives. The paper suffers everything, said a man of wit. Doubtless it is the only sufferer, since men retain no remembrance of sophisms; and fortunately for the dignity of literature, no monument of this noble art can be raised on false bases. The accents of truth are essential to eloquence, just principles to reasoning, courage of soul to the impetuous excursions of genius; and nothing of this is to be found in writers who follow the direction of force, from whatever point of the compass it may blow.
The journals were filled with addresses to the Emperor, with the strolls of the Emperor, with those of the princes and princesses, with ceremonies and presentations at court. These journals, faithful to the spirit of servitude, found the means to be insipid at the very moment of the subversion of the world; and had it not been for the official bulletins,3 which came from time to time to inform us that the half of Europe was conquered, we might have believed that we were living under arbors of flowers and that we had nothing better to do than to count the steps of their Imperial Majesties and Highnesses, and to repeat the gracious words which they had condescended to let fall upon the head of their prostrate subjects. Was it thus that men of letters and magistrates capable of thought should have conducted themselves in the presence of posterity?
Some persons, however, tried to print books under the censorship of the police; what was the consequence? a persecution like that which forced me to fly by Moscow to seek an asylum in England.4 The bookseller Palm was shot in Germany for having refused to name the author of a pamphlet which he had printed.5 And, if more numerous examples of proscriptions cannot be quoted, the reason is that despotism was exerted so strongly that at last all submitted to it, as to those terrible laws of nature, disease and death. It was not merely the endless rigors to which you were exposed under so persevering a tyranny; but you could enjoy no literary glory in your own country when journals, as numerous as under a free government, and yet all following abjectly the same language, teased you with the witticisms which were prescribed to them. For my part I have furnished continual refrains to the French journalists for fifteen years—the melancholy of the North, the perfectibility of the human species, the muses of romance, the muses of Germany. The yoke of authority and the spirit of imitation were imposed upon literature as the official journal dictated the articles of faith in politics. The sagacious instinct of despotism made the agents of the literary police feel that originality in the manner of writing may conduct to independence of character; and that great care must be taken not to suffer English and German books to be introduced into Paris, if it is meant to check the French writers, while they observe the rules of taste, from keeping pace with the progress of the human mind in countries where civil troubles have not retarded its advancement.
Finally, of all the pains which the slavery of the press can inflict, the bitterest is to see what you most love or most respect insulted in the public papers without the possibility of procuring the insertion of a reply in the same gazettes, which are necessarily more popular than books. What cowardice to attack the grave when the friends of the deceased cannot take up their defense! What cowardice in these mediocre and unscrupulous writers, when backed by authority, to attack the living too, and to serve as a vanguard to all the proscriptions of which absolute power, when the least suspicion is suggested to it, is so prodigal! What a style is that which bears the seal of the police! When we read, by the side of this arrogance and meanness, the discourses of Englishmen or Americans, of public men, in short, who, in addressing other men, seek only to impress upon them their sincere conviction, we felt ourselves moved as if the voice of a friend had all at once reached the ear of a forsaken being who knew not where to find a fellow creature.
A Saying of Bonaparte Printed in the Moniteur.
It was not enough that every act of Bonaparte should bear the stamp of a despotism becoming always more audacious; it was further necessary that he himself reveal the secret of his own government, disdainful enough of mankind that he should reveal it openly. In the Moniteur of the month of July, 1810, he caused these words to be inserted, addressed to his brother Louis Bonaparte’s second son,1 who was then destined to be Grand Duke of Berg. Never forget, says he, in whatever situation my politics and the interest of my empire may place you, that your first duties are to me, your second to France; and that all your other duties, even your duties toward the people whom I may have entrusted to your care, come only afterward. This is no libel, it is not the opinion of a faction: it is the man himself, it is Bonaparte in person, who brings against himself a severer accusation than posterity would ever have dared to do. Louis XIV was accused of having said in private, I am the state; and enlightened historians have with justice grounded themselves upon this language in condemning his character. But if, when that monarch placed his grandson on the throne of Spain, he had publicly taught him the same doctrine that Bonaparte taught his nephew, perhaps even Bossuet would not have dared to prefer the interests of kings to those of nations. He who chose thus to substitute his gigantic self in the place of the human species was a man chosen by the people—a man whom the friends of freedom for an instant mistook as the representative of their cause! Many have said, he is the child of the Revolution; yes, without doubt; but a parricidal child: should they then have acknowledged him?
On the Political Doctrine of Bonaparte.
One day M. Suard, who more than any other lettered Frenchman united the tact of literature with a knowledge of the great world, was speaking boldly before Bonaparte of the picture of the Roman emperors in Tacitus: “Very well,” said Napoléon; “but he ought to have told us why the Roman people suffered, and even liked those bad emperors. It is that which it was of importance to explain to posterity.” Let it be our endeavor not to incur, with respect to the Emperor of France himself, the censure which he passed on the Roman historian.
The two principal causes of Napoléon’s power in France were, above all, his military glory and the art with which he re-established order without attacking those selfish passions to which the Revolution had given birth. But not everything was included in these two problems.
It is pretended that, in discussions in the Council of State, Napoléon displayed a universal sagacity. I have some doubts of the ability ascribed to a man who is all-powerful; it is much more difficult for us, the common people, to earn our celebrity. One is not, however, master of Europe during fifteen years without having a piercing view of men and things. But there was in the mind of Bonaparte an incoherence which is a marked feature of those who do not range their thoughts under the law of duty. The power of commanding had been given by nature to Bonaparte; but it was rather because other men did not act upon him, than because he acted upon them, that he became their master. The qualities which he lacked served his purpose as well as the talents he possessed; and he made himself obeyed only by degrading those whom he subjected. His successes are astonishing; his reverses more astonishing still. What he performed, aided by the energy of the nation, is admirable; the state of torpor in which he left it can scarcely be conceived. The multitude of men of talent whom he employed is extraordinary; but the characters whom he debased have done more harm to the cause of liberty than the service that could be rendered to it by all the powers of intelligence. To him, above all, may be applied the fine image of despotism, in the “Spirit of Laws”;1 “he cut up the tree by its roots to obtain its fruit,” and perhaps he has even dried up the soil.
In a word, Bonaparte, the absolute master of eighty million men, and meeting nowhere with opposition, knew neither how to found a single institution in the state nor durable power for himself.2 What, then, was the destructive principle which haunted his triumphal steps? What was it? the contempt of mankind, and consequently of all the laws, all the studies, all the establishments, and all the elections of which the basis is respect for the human race. Bonaparte was intoxicated with the vile draught of Machiavellism; he resembled in many respects the Italian tyrants of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; and as he had read but little, the natural tendency of his character was not counteracted by the effect of information. The Middle Ages being the most brilliant era in the history of the Italians, many of them have but too much respect for the maxims of government at that period, and those maxims were all collected by Machiavelli.
Reading lately in Italy his famous treatise of The Prince, which still finds believers among power-holders, a new fact and a new conjecture appeared to me worthy of notice. In the first place, letters of Machiavelli found in the manuscripts of the Barberini library and published in 1813 prove clearly that he published his Prince in order to reconcile himself with the Medicis. They had put him to the rack on account of his efforts in favor of liberty; he was ruined, in bad health, and without resources; he gave up his principles, but it was after having been put to the torture—in our days, people yield to slighter things.
This treatise of The Prince, where we find unhappily that superiority of mind which Machiavelli had displayed in a better cause, was not composed, as has been believed, to render despotism odious by showing the frightful resources which despots must employ to maintain their authority. This supposition is too refined to be admitted.3 I am inclined to think that Machiavelli, detesting above everything the yoke of foreigners in Italy, tolerated, and even encouraged, the means, whatever they were, which the princes of the country could employ in order to be masters, hoping that they would one day be powerful enough to repulse the German and French troops. Machiavelli analyzes the art of war in his writings like a military man; he reverts continually to the necessity of a military organization entirely national; and if he sullied his reputation by his indulgence for the crimes of the Borgias, it was perhaps because he felt too strongly the desire of attempting every means of recovering the independence of his country. Bonaparte did not certainly examine the Prince of Machiavelli in this point of view; but he sought there what still passes for profound wisdom with vulgar minds, the art of deceiving mankind. This policy must fall in proportion to the extension of knowledge, as the belief in witchcraft has fallen since the true laws of natural philosophy have been discovered.
A general principle, whatever it might be, was displeasing to Bonaparte, as a thing foolish or hostile. He listened only to the considerations of the moment, and examined things merely with a view to their immediate utility; for he would have wished to stake the whole world in an annuity on his own life. He was not sanguinary but indifferent respecting the lives of men, considering them but as a means of attaining his end or as an obstacle to be removed out of his way. He was even less irascible than he often seemed to be: he wished to terrify by his words, in order to spare himself the act by the threat. Everything with him was means or end; nothing involuntary was to be found either in good or evil. It is pretended that he said, “I have so many conscripts to expend by the year”; and it is probable that he held that language, for Bonaparte had contempt enough for his hearers to delight in a kind of sincerity which is nothing less than impudence.
He never believed in exalted sentiments, either in individuals or in nations; he considered the expression of these sentiments as hypocrisy. He believed that he held the key of human nature by fear and by hope, skillfully presented to the selfish and the ambitious. It must be allowed that his perseverance and activity were never slackened on behalf of the slightest interests of despotism; but it was that very despotism which was destined one day to fall upon his head. An anecdote, in which I happened to have some share, may give an additional idea of the system of Bonaparte relative to the art of governing.
The Duke of Melzi,4 who was for some time vice president of the Cisalpine Republic, was one of the most distinguished characters which Italy, so fertile in every production, has brought forth. Born of a Spanish mother and an Italian father, he blended the dignity of one nation with the vivacity of the other; and I am not sure whether even in France a man could be cited more remarkable for his powers of conversation, and for the more important and essential talent of knowing and appreciating all those who acted a political part in Europe. The First Consul was obliged to employ him, because he had the greatest influence over his fellow-citizens, and because his attachment to his country was unquestioned. Bonaparte did not like to make use of men who were disinterested and whose principles, whatever they might be, were not to be shaken; he was therefore continually circumventing Melzi, in order to corrupt him.
Having caused himself to be crowned King of Italy in 1805, Bonaparte went to the legislative body of Lombardy and informed the Assembly that he had the intention of giving a considerable estate to the Duke of Melzi as a testimony of public gratitude toward him: this, he hoped, would render him unpopular. Being then at Milan, I saw that same evening M. de Melzi, who was quite in despair at the perfidious trick that Napoléon had played him, without having given him the slightest warning. As Bonaparte would have been irritated by a refusal, I advised M. de Melzi to appropriate instantly to a public establishment the revenues with which Napoléon wanted to overwhelm him. He followed my advice, and the next day, walking with the Emperor, he told him that such was his intention. Bonaparte, seizing him by the arm, exclaimed, “This, I would wager, is an idea of Madame de Staël; but take my advice, and do not give in to the romantic philanthropy of the eighteenth century; there is only one thing to do in this world: that is to get continually more money and more power; all the rest is chimerical.” Many people will say that he was right; I think, on the contrary, that history will show that by establishing this doctrine, by setting men loose from the ties of honor everywhere but on the field of battle, he prepared his partisans to abandon him, according to his own precepts, when he should cease to be the strongest; and indeed he may well boast of having met with more disciples faithful to his system than adherents devoted to his misfortunes. He consecrated his policy by fatalism, the only religion suitable to this devotedness to fortune; and his prosperity constantly increasing, he ended by making himself the high priest and idol of his own adoration, believing in himself as if his desires were presages and his designs oracles.
The duration of the power of Bonaparte was a perpetual lesson of immorality. If he had always succeeded, what should we have been able to say to our children? There would have been left, it is true, the solace of religious resignation; but the mass of the inhabitants of the world would have sought in vain to discover the intentions of Providence in human affairs.
Nevertheless, in 1811, the Germans still called Bonaparte the man of fate, and the imagination even of some Englishmen was dazzled by his extraordinary talents. Poland and Italy still hoped for independence from him, and the daughter of the Caesars had become his consort.5 This badge of honor caused him a transport of joy foreign to his nature; and for some time it might be believed that his illustrious partner would change the character of the man with whom destiny had connected her. Even at this time Bonaparte lacked but one good sentiment to have become the greatest monarch upon earth; either that of paternal affection, which induces men to take care of the inheritance of their children; or pity for the French who rushed to death for him whenever he gave the signal; or equity toward foreign nations who gazed at him with wonder; or, finally, that kind of prudence natural to every man toward the middle of life, when he sees the approach of the vast shadows by which he must soon be enveloped: one virtue, one single virtue would have sufficed to have fixed all human prosperity on the head of Bonaparte. But the divine spark did not exist.
The triumph of Bonaparte in Europe, as well as in France, was founded on a great equivocation which endures with a number of people. The nations persisted in considering him the defender of their rights at the very moment when he was their greatest enemy. The strength of the French Revolution, of which he had been the inheritor, was immense, because it was composed of the will of the French and of the secret desires of other nations. Napoléon made use of this power against the old governments during several years, before the people discovered that their interest was not his object. The same names still subsisted: it was still France, lately the center of popular principles; and although Bonaparte destroyed republics and stimulated kings and princes to acts of tyranny, in opposition even to their own natural moderation, it was yet believed that all this would end in liberty; and he often himself talked of a constitution, at least when speaking of the reign of his son. Nonetheless, the first step that Bonaparte made toward his ruin was the enterprise on Spain;6 for he there met with a national resistance, the only one from which no corruption or diplomatic art could set him free. He had not suspected the danger which awaited his army in a war of villages and mountains; he did not believe in the power of the soul; he counted bayonets, and there being scarcely any in Spain before the arrival of the English troops, he had not learned to dread the only invincible power—the enthusiasm of a whole nation. The French, said Bonaparte, are nervous machines, by which he meant to explain that mixture of obedience and mobility which constitutes their character. This reproach is perhaps well founded; but amidst these defects they have displayed an invincible perseverance during nearly thirty years; and it was because Bonaparte flattered their ruling passion that he reigned. The French long believed that the imperial government would preserve them from the institutions of the Old Regime, which to them are peculiarly odious. They also long confounded the cause of the Revolution with that of a new master; many people with good intentions suffered themselves to be deluded by this motive; others held the same language, though they had no longer the same opinion; and it was long before the nation lost its interest in Bonaparte. But from that moment forward an abyss was hollowed under his steps.
Intoxication of Power; Reverses and Abdication of Bonaparte.
“I am tired of this old Europe,” said Napoléon before his departure for Russia. He met indeed nowhere any obstacle to his will, and the restlessness of his character required a new aliment. Perhaps also the strength and clearness of his judgment were impaired when he saw men and things bending before him in such a manner that it became no longer necessary for him to exercise his thoughts upon any of the difficulties of life. There is in unlimited power a kind of giddiness which seizes on genius as on stupidity, and overthrows them both alike.
The Oriental etiquette which Bonaparte had established in his court intercepted that kind of knowledge which is acquired amidst the easy communications of society. When there were four hundred people in his saloon, a blind man might have thought himself alone, so deep was the silence that prevailed. The marshals of France, amidst the fatigues of war, at the moment of the crisis of a battle, used to enter the tent of the Emperor to ask his orders without being allowed to sit down. His family did not suffer less than strangers from his despotism and his pride. Lucien preferred living a prisoner in England to reigning under the orders of his brother.1 Louis Bonaparte, whose character is generally esteemed, was constrained by his probity to renounce the throne of Holland;2 and can it be believed that when conversing with his brother during two hours by themselves, and that brother obliged by indisposition to lean painfully against the wall, Napoléon never offered him a chair: he used to continue standing himself, from the fear that anyone should think of using the familiarity with him of sitting in his presence.
The dread which he inspired in later times was such that nobody dared to address him first upon any subject. Sometimes he conversed with the greatest simplicity, surrounded by his court and in his Council of State. He suffered, and even encouraged, contradiction upon administrative or judicial affairs which had no connection with his power. It was curious to remark how sensibly those persons were affected whom he had suffered for a moment to breathe freely; but when the master re-appeared, it was in vain to ask the ministers to present a report to the Emperor against an unjust measure. If the question was about the victim of some error, some individual caught by accident in that great net thrown over the human race—the agents of power would invoke the difficulty of addressing Napoléon, as if he had been the Great Lama. Such a stupor caused by power would have raised a smile if the situation of men without refuge under this despotism had not inspired the deepest pity.
The compliments, the hymns, the adorations without number and without measure which filled his journals, might have tired a man of such transcendent mind; but the despotism of his character was stronger than his reason. He liked true praise less than base flattery, because the one only showed his merit while the other attested his authority. In general he preferred power to glory; for the exertion of power pleased him too much to make him think of posterity, on whom it cannot act. But one of the results of absolute power which contributed the most to precipitate Bonaparte from his throne was that by degrees no one dared to state to him the truth on any subject. He ended by not knowing that it was cold at Moscow in November, because there could be found no one among his courtiers who had enough of the Roman to inform him of a thing so simple.3
In 1811, Napoléon had inserted, and disavowed at the same time, in the Moniteur a sacred note, printed in the English papers as having been addressed by his Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Ambassador of Russia. It was there said that Europe could enjoy no peace so long as England and its constitution subsisted. Whether this note was authentic or not, it bore at least the stamp of the school of Napoléon, and certainly expressed his ideas. An instinct which he could not account for taught him that so long as a center of justice and liberty existed in the world, the tribunal which was to pass sentence upon him held its permanent meetings.
Bonaparte connected perhaps with the wild idea of the war of Russia that of the conquest of Turkey, of a return into Egypt, and of some attempts on the English establishments in India. Such were the gigantic plans with which he marched for the first time to Dresden,4 dragging after him the armies of all the continent of Europe, whom he obliged to march against the powerful nation situated on the limit of Asia. Pretexts were of small importance to a man who had attained such a degree of power; still it was necessary to adopt a phrase on the expedition to Russia which the courtiers might use as the word of command. This phrase was that France was obliged to make war on Russia, because that power did not maintain the Continental blockade against England. Now, at this very time, Bonaparte himself was continually granting licenses at Paris for exchanges with the merchants of London; and the Emperor of Russia might with more propriety have declared war against him for violating the treaty by which they had mutually engaged to hold no commercial intercourse with England. But who would now take the trouble of justifying such a war? No one; not even Bonaparte; for his respect for success is such that he must condemn himself for having incurred such great reverses.
Nevertheless, the feeling of admiration and terror which Bonaparte inspired was so great that little doubt was entertained of his triumph. While he was at Dresden in 1812, surrounded by all the sovereigns of Germany, at the head of an army of five hundred thousand men composed of almost all the nations of Europe, it seemed impossible, according to human calculation, that his expedition should fail. In his fall, indeed, the intervention of Providence has been more manifested to the world than in any other event; and the elements were first employed to strike the ruler of men. At present we can hardly imagine that if Bonaparte had succeeded in his expedition against Russia, there would not have been a single corner of Continental ground where one could have escaped from his power. All the ports were shut, and the Continent was, like the tower of Ugolino, walled up on all sides.
Threatened with imprisonment by a prefect,5 extremely docile to power, if I showed the least intention of withdrawing for a day from my dwelling, I escaped when Bonaparte was just entering into Russia, fearing I should find no outlet in Europe if I deferred my project any longer.6 I had already but two ways of going to England, by Constantinople or by St. Petersburg. The war between Russia and Turkey rendered the road by the latter almost impracticable; I did not know what would become of me, when the Emperor Alexander had the goodness to send me a passport to Vienna. On entering his empire, acknowledged as absolute, I felt myself free for the first time since the reign of Bonaparte; not only on account of the personal virtues of the Emperor Alexander, but because Russia was the only country which Napoléon had not compelled to feel his influence. None of the old governments can be compared to a tyranny which is engrafted upon a revolution, a tyranny which had employed even the extension of knowledge to chain even further every form of liberty.
It is my intention at a future day to write what I observed of Russia; I shall here only remark, without turning from my subject, that it is a country little known, because almost all we have seen of that nation is a small number of courtiers, whose defects are always greater in proportion as the power of a monarch is less limited. They are distinguished, for the most part, only by that intrepid bravery common to all classes; but the Russian peasantry, that numerous class of the nation whose knowledge does not extend beyond the earth they cultivate and the heavens they contemplate, have qualities that are really admirable. The mildness of these people, their hospitality, their natural elegance, are extraordinary; no danger exists in their eyes; they think nothing impossible when their master commands. The word “master,” of which courtiers make an object of flattery and policy, does not produce the same effect on a people almost Asiatic. The monarch, being at the head of public worship, constitutes a part of their religion, and the peasants prostrate themselves before the Emperor as they salute the church by which they pass; no servile feeling mingles itself with these demonstrations of their sentiments.
Thanks to the enlightened wisdom of the present sovereign, every possible amelioration will take place gradually in Russia.7 But nothing is more absurd than the observations commonly repeated by those who dread the enlightened ideas of Alexander. “Why,” they exclaim, “does that Emperor, for whom the friends of liberty are such enthusiasts; why does he not establish at home the constitutional government which he recommends to other nations?” It is one of the thousand artifices of the enemies of human reason to endeavor to prevent what is possible and desirable for one nation by demanding things that are impossible for another. There is as yet no Third Estate in Russia: how, then, could a representative government be established there? The intermediary class between the boyards and the people is almost entirely missing. It would be possible to augment the power of the great nobles, and by so doing, destroy the work of Peter I; but that would be going back instead of forward; for the power of the Emperor, however absolute, is an amelioration in the state of society, compared to what the Russian aristocracy formerly was. Russia, in regard to civilization, has only attained that period of history in which, for the good of nations, it becomes necessary to limit the power of the privileged class by that of the crown. Thirty-six religions, including those that are pagan, and thirty-six different nations are not collected, but scattered over an immense territory. On one hand, the Greek creed accords with perfect toleration, and on the other, the vast space occupied by the population leaves every man the freedom of living according to his mores. There is not yet to be found, in this order of things, knowledge that could be concentrated or individuals who could make institutions work. The only tie which unites nations who are almost in a pastoral state, and whose dwellings appear like wooden tents erected in the plain, is respect for the monarch and national pride. Other ties will be successively brought forth by time.
I was at Moscow exactly a month before Napoléon’s army entered its walls; and I did not dare to remain but a very short time, fearing its immediate approach. When walking on the top of the Kremlin, the palace of the ancient tzars, which commands the vast capital of Russia and its eighteen hundred churches, I thought it was the lot of Bonaparte to see empires at his feet, as Satan offered them to our Savior. But it was when there remained nothing more for him to conquer in Europe that Fate seized upon him, and made him fall with as much rapidity as he had risen. Perhaps he has since learned that whatever may be the events in the earlier scenes, there is a potency in virtue which always reappears at the fifth act of the tragedy; as, among the ancients, the knot was severed by a god when the action was worthy of his intervention.
The admirable perseverance of the Emperor Alexander in refusing the peace which Bonaparte offered him, according to his practice when victorious; the energy of the Russians, who set fire to Moscow that the martyrdom of one holy city might redeem the Christian world; all this certainly contributed greatly to the misfortunes of Bonaparte’s troops in the retreat from Russia. But it was that cold, that “cold of Hell,” such as is pictured by Dante, that alone could annihilate the army of Xerxes.
We who have French hearts had accustomed ourselves, during the fifteen years of the tyranny of Napoléon, to consider his armies beyond the Rhine as no more belonging to France. They no longer defended the interests of the nation, they only served the ambition of one man; there was nothing in that which could awaken the love of their country; and far from wishing for the triumph of those troops, a great part of whom were foreigners, their defeat might be considered as a blessing even for France. Besides, the more we are attached to liberty in our own country, the more we feel that it is impossible to rejoice in victories the result of which must be the oppression of other nations. But who can hear a description of the evils which overwhelmed the French in the war of Russia without heart-rending sorrow?
Incredible man!—he had witnessed sufferings from which thought recoils,8 he knew that the French grenadiers, whom Europe never names but with respect, became the toy of a few Jews and of some old women at Wilna, so much was their physical strength weakened, long before they could die; he received proofs of respect and of attachment from that army when they were perishing for him one by one; and he refused, six months after, at Dresden, a peace which would leave him master of France as far as the Rhine and of the whole of Italy.9 He had come rapidly to Paris after the retreat from Russia to collect new forces, having, with firmness more theatrical than natural, crossed Germany, where he was detested but still feared. In his last bulletin10 he had given an account of the disasters of his army, which he had rather exaggerated than concealed. He is a man who delights so much in calling forth strong emotions that when he cannot conceal his losses, he exaggerates them in order to do always more than another. During his absence, some attempted against him the most generous conspiracy (that of Mallet) of which the history of the French Revolution presents an example;11 and which, therefore, terrified him more than the coalition itself. Alas! why did not this patriotic conspiracy succeed? France would have had the glory of freeing herself, and it would not have been under the ruins of the country that her oppressor would have been crushed.
General Mallet was a friend to liberty, and attacked Bonaparte on that ground. Bonaparte was well aware that none was more dangerous for him; and when he returned to Paris, he talked of nothing but ideologie.12 He had conceived a horror for this very innocent word because it meant the theory of thought. It was singular enough to dread nothing but what he called the ideologues at a moment when all Europe was armed against him. It would have been noble if, in consequence of this fear, he had sought, in preference to everything, the esteem of philosophers; but he detested every man capable of an independent opinion. Even from a political point of view, he leaned too much to the belief that men were to be governed only by their interest; this old maxim, however common it may be, is often false. The greater number of those on whom Bonaparte had heaped places and wealth deserted his cause; but his soldiers, attached to him by his victories, did not abandon him. He laughed at enthusiasm; and yet it was by enthusiasm, or at least military fanaticism, that he was supported. The frenzy of battles, which has something of greatness even in its excess, constituted the only strength of Bonaparte. Nations can never be in the wrong; a vicious principle never acts long on the mass: men are perverse only individually.
Bonaparte performed, or rather the nation performed for him, a miracle: notwithstanding his immense losses in Russia, a new army was created in less than three months, which was able to march into Germany and to gain new battles. It was then that the demon of pride and folly took possession of Bonaparte in such a manner that reasoning founded on his own interest can no longer explain the motives of his conduct: it was at Dresden that he mistook the last apparition of his tutelary genius.
The Germans, long indignant, rose at length against the French who occupied their territory; national pride, the great strength of human nature, again displayed itself among the sons of Germany. Bonaparte was then taught what becomes of allies who have been constrained by force; and that whatever is not voluntary is destroyed at the first reverse of fortune. The sovereigns of Germany fought with the intrepidity of soldiers; and it seemed as if the Prussians and their warlike king were animated by the remembrance of the personal insult offered some years before by Bonaparte to their beautiful and virtuous queen.13
The liberation of Germany had long been the object of the wishes of the Emperor of Russia. When the French were repulsed from his country, he devoted himself to this cause, not only as a sovereign but as a general; and he several times exposed his life, not in the character of a monarch guarded by his courtiers, but in that of an intrepid soldier. Holland welcomed her deliverers and recalled that house of Orange whose princes are now, as heretofore, the defenders of independence and the magistrates of liberty.14 Whatever was the influence at this period of the English victories in Spain, we shall speak elsewhere of Lord Wellington, for we must pause at that name; we cannot take an incidental notice of it.15
Bonaparte returned to Paris; and even at this moment France might have been saved. Five members of the Legislative Assembly, Gallois, Raynouard, Flaugergues, Maine de Biran, and Lainé, asked for peace at the peril of their lives.16 Each of those persons might be designated by his particular merit; and the last I have named, Lainé,17 perpetuates every day by his conduct and talents the remembrance of an action which alone would suffice to honor the character of any person. If the Senate had joined with the five members of the legislative body, and the generals had supported the Senate, France would have been the disposer of her own fate; and whatever course she had taken, she would have remained France. But fifteen years of tyranny subverts all ideas and changes all sentiments; the very men who would expose so nobly their lives in war are not aware that the same courage and the same honor command resistance in the civil career to the enemy of all the despotism.
Bonaparte answered the delegation of the legislative body with a kind of concentrated fury; he expressed himself ill, but his pride was seen to pierce through his confused language. He said “that France wanted him more than he wanted France,” forgetting that it was himself who had reduced her to that state. He added “that a throne was but a piece of wood upon which a carpet was spread, and that all depended on the person by whom it was occupied.” Finally, he continued to appear intoxicated with himself. A singular anecdote, however, might lead us to believe that he was already struck with that stupor which seems to have taken possession of his character during the last crisis of his political life. A person worthy of credit told me that, conversing with him alone, the day before his departure for the army in the month of January, 1814, when the allies had already entered France, Bonaparte confessed in this private interview that he did not possess the means of resisting; they discussed the question, and Bonaparte showed him, without reserve, the worst side of things; and, what will scarcely be believed, he fell asleep while talking on such a subject, without any preceding fatigue that could explain so singular an apathy. This did not prevent his displaying an extreme activity in his campaign of 1814; he suffered himself, no doubt, to be misled by a presumptuous confidence; and on the other hand, physical existence, through enjoyments and facilities of all kinds, had gained possession of this man, formerly so intellectual. His soul seemed in some sort to have become gross along with his body. His genius now pierced only at intervals through that covering of egoism which a long habit of being considered everything had made him acquire. He sunk under the weight of prosperity before he was overthrown by misfortune.
It is pretended that he would not consent to relinquish the conquests which had been made by the Republic, and that he could not bring himself to allow that France should be weakened under his reign. If this consideration determined him to refuse the peace that was offered to him at Châtillon18 in March, 1814, it is the first time that the idea of a duty acted on his mind; and his perseverance on this occasion, however imprudent, would deserve some esteem. But it rather appears that he relied too much on his talents after having had some success in Champagne, and that he concealed from himself, as might have been done by one of his flatterers, the difficulties he had to surmount. They were so much accustomed to fear him that none of them dared to tell him the facts that interested him the most. If he happened to assert that in such a place there was a body of twenty thousand French, no one had the courage to inform him that there were only ten thousand; if he observed that the Allies were only in such a number, no one ventured to prove that this number was double. His despotism was such that he had reduced men to be but the echo of himself; and his own voice returning to him from all sides, he was alone amidst the crowd that encircled him.
In short, he did not perceive that enthusiasm had passed from the left bank of the Rhine to the right; that he had no longer to do with undecided governments, but with irritated nations; and that on his side, on the contrary, there was only an army and no longer a nation; for in this great contest France remained neutral, without seeming to think that what regarded him regarded herself. The most warlike of nations saw, almost with indifference, the success of those very foreigners with whom they had often fought so gloriously; and the inhabitants of the towns and villages gave but little aid to the French soldiers, not being able to persuade themselves that after twenty-five years of victory, so strange an event as the entry of the Allies into Paris could ever happen. It did, however, happen! this terrible justice of destiny. The Allies were generous; Alexander, as we shall see hereafter, displayed a constant magnanimity. He was the first to enter the conquered city as a powerful protector and as an enlightened philanthropist; but even in admiring him, who could be a Frenchman and not be overwhelmed with sorrow?
From the moment that the Allies crossed the Rhine and penetrated into France, it seemed to me that the wishes of the friends of France ought to have been completely changed. I was then in London, and one of the English ministers asked me what were my wishes? I had the boldness to answer him that I wished that Bonaparte should be victorious, and killed. I found in Englishmen sufficient greatness of mind to have no need of concealing this French sentiment in their presence. I was, however, forced to hear, amidst the transports of joy with which the city of the conquerors resounded, that Paris had fallen into the power of the Allies. It seemed to me at that moment that there was no longer a France: I thought the prediction of Burke accomplished, and that there where France existed we should henceforth see but an abyss. The Emperor Alexander, the Allies, and the constitutional principles adopted by the wisdom of Louis XVIII dissipated this sad foreboding.19
Bonaparte then heard on all sides the truth which had been so long kept in captivity. It was then that ungrateful courtiers deserved the contempt entertained by their master for the human race. If the friends of liberty respect public opinion, desire publicity, and seek everywhere for the sincere and free support of the national voice, it is because they know that only the vilest of souls appear in the secrets and intrigues of arbitrary power.
There was, however, something of grandeur in the farewell of Napoléon to his soldiers and to their eagles, so long victorious; his last campaign had been long and skillful; in short, the fatal illusion which connected him with the military glory of France was not yet destroyed. The Congress at Paris has accordingly to reproach itself with having put him in a situation that admitted of his return.20 The representatives of Europe ought frankly to confess this fault; and it is unjust to make the French nation bear the blame. It was certainly without any sinister intention that the ministers of the foreign powers allowed to hover over the throne of Louis XVIII a danger which threatened, at the same time, the whole of Europe. But why do not those who suspended this sword plead guilty to the mischief which it caused?
Many people like to claim that Bonaparte, had he not attempted the war of Spain or that of Russia, would still be Emperor; and this opinion is flattering to the partisans of despotic power, who think that so fine a government cannot be overturned by the nature of things, but only by accidental causes. I have already said what an attentive consideration of France will confirm, that Bonaparte stood in need of war to establish and preserve absolute power. A great nation would not have borne the monotonous and degrading pressure of despotism if military glory had not incessantly animated or exalted the public mind. The continual promotion to various ranks, in which every class of the nation had the means of participating, rendered the conscription less painful to the peasantry. The interest perpetually excited by victory supplied the place of interest in other things; ambition was the active principle of government in its smallest ramifications; titles, money, power, all were given by Bonaparte to the French in place of their liberty. But, to be enabled to deal around these disastrous indemnities, he required nothing less than Europe to devour. If Napoléon had been what one may term a rational tyrant, he would not have been able to struggle against the activity of the French, which required an object. He was a man condemned by his destiny either to the virtues of Washington or to the conquests of Attila; but it was easier to reach the confines of the civilized world than to stop the progress of human reason; and public opinion in France would soon have accomplished what was brought about by the arms of the Allies.
From this time forward it is not he alone who will occupy the history of which we aim at sketching a picture, and our ill-fated France is about to appear again after fifteen years during which nothing was spoken of but the Emperor and his army. What reverses we have to describe! what evils we have to dread! We shall be obliged to require of Bonaparte once more an account of France, since that country, too confiding and too warlike, trusted her fate a second time in his hands.
In the different observations which I have made about Bonaparte, I have abstained from his private life, with which I am unacquainted, and which does not concern the interests of France. I have not advanced a single doubtful point in regard to his history; for the calumnies thrown out against him seem to me still more vile than the adulations of which he was the object. I flatter myself with having estimated him as all public men ought to be estimated: with reference to the effects of their conduct on the prosperity, information, and morality of nations. The persecutions which Bonaparte made me undergo have not, I can faithfully declare, at all biased my opinion. On the contrary, I have rather felt a necessity for resisting that kind of fascination produced on the imagination by an extraordinary genius and a formidable destiny. I should even gladly have allowed myself to be led away by the satisfaction which lofty minds find in defending an unfortunate man, and by the pleasure of thus putting themselves more in opposition to the writers and speakers who, so lately prostrate before him, are now incessantly pouring abuse on him, keeping, however, I imagine, a watchful eye on the height of the rocks which imprison him.21 But one cannot be silent in regard to Bonaparte even in the day of his misfortune, because his political doctrine still reigns in the minds both of his enemies and of his partisans. For of the whole inheritance of his dreadful power, there remains nothing to mankind but the baneful knowledge of a few secrets the more in the art of tyranny.
[1. ] On August 1, 1798.
[2. ] There is no evidence that Napoléon intended to convert to Islam. For more information on this topic, see Spillman, Napoléon et l’Islam.
[3. ] The Concordat was signed on July 16, 1801.
[4. ] This imaginary dialogue was published in various French journals of that period.
[5. ] In May–June 1799.
[6. ] Lucien Bonaparte (1775–1840), later Prince of Canino; Joseph Bonaparte (1768–1844), later king of Naples and king of Spain (until 1814).
[7. ] Napoléon left Egypt on August 23, 1799.
[1. ] In October 1799.
[2. ] In September 1799.
[3. ] The French regained possession of Piedmont in June 1800.
[4. ] According to Jacques Godechot, the original text was most likely altered here by Madame de Staël’s first editors, who are said to have cut passages in which Madame de Staël manifested a more favorable attitude to Napoléon after 18 Brumaire. A few revealing passages from Staël’s correspondence with Necker from this period can be found in Guillemin, Madame de Staël, Benjamin Constant et Napoléon, 7; and Haussonville, Madame de Staël et M. Necker d’après leur correspondence inédite, 125–33.
[5. ] Aréna (1771–1801), a military officer and deputy to the Council of Five Hundred, was arrested and executed in 1801 for participating in a conspiracy against Napoléon.
[6. ] In 1814 and 1815.
[7. ] In fact, approximately 800,000 French soldiers died in these military campaigns.
[8. ] Corsica, where Napoléon was born in August 1769, was actually part of France at that time.
[1. ] On 19 Brumaire, deputies who were favorably disposed toward Napoléon met and created a Consular Commission that included Napoléon and two directors (Sieyès and Ducos). The deputies then divided themselves into two other committees (of twenty-five members each), which were supposed to draft a new constitution.
[2. ] Sieyès proposed three listes de notabilités: communal, departmental, and national. The system was extremely complex and confusing, and it amounted to abolishing popular elections by giving to the executive body the final power to choose the representatives from these lists. For more information, see Godechot, Les Institutions, 558–70; also see Les Constitutions et les principales lois politiques de la France depuis 1789, de la France, 109–20.
[1. ] The Constitution of Year VIII. The text can be found in Les constitutions de la France, 109–18.
[2. ] Carbacérès (1753–1824), a deputy to the Council of Five Hundred, was appointed minister of justice on July 20, 1799.
[3. ] Lebrun (1739–1824), a deputy to the Estates General and the Council of Five Hundred.
[4. ] Social atomization and leveling were two themes many French liberals used to account for the challenges faced by postrevolutionary France. In his parlementary speeches during the Restoration, Royer-Collard used a famous phrase—la société en poussière (atomized society)—to describe this phenomenon. A few decades later, Royer-Collard’s disciple Tocqueville resorted to this same image in The Old Régime and the Revolution (1856).
[5. ] The decree of January 17, 1800, reduced the number of journals in Paris from sixty to thirteen. Official censorship was introduced in 1804. For more information, see Hatin, Histoire politique et littéraire de la presse en France, vols. 7–8.
[6. ] Reference to the war contributions made by the countries occupied by Napoléon.
[1. ] The Battle of Marengo (June 14, 1800) was one of the most important episodes of the Napoléonic Wars. For more information, see Hamilton, Marengo.
[2. ] The treaty was signed on March 25, 1802, after French victories at Marengo and Hohenlinden, when Austria, Russia, and Naples sued for peace. The signing was made possible by William Pitt’s resignation in London. Although England gained possession of two important territories (Trinidad and Tobago in the southern Caribbean and Ceylon in South Asia), the treaty terms were far from favorable to England, which agreed to give up the Cape Colony (in South Africa) and much of the West Indies to the so-called Batavian Republic (from 1795 to 1806, it designated the Netherlands as a republic modeled after the French Republic). England also agreed to withdraw from Egypt while France withdrew from the Papal States. Finally, Malta was restored to the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
[3. ] William Wyndham Grenville (1759–1834), also known as Baron Grenville, was a prominent British Whig politician and a close ally of William Pitt the Younger. He served as foreign secretary (1791–1801) and as chancellor of Oxford (1810–34).
[4. ] Sheridan (1751–1816) was one of the Whigs favorable to the French Revolution. The Peace of Amiens was signed on March 27, 1802. The terms were not favorable to Britain, which finally acknowledged France’s hegemony in Europe.
[5. ] On December 24, 1800, the First Consul narrowly escaped the explosion of a bomb in the rue Saint-Nicaise. He subsequently used this attempt on his life as a pretext for eliminating his Jacobin opponents.
[1. ] Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis (1757–1808) was a close friend of Mirabeau’s and a prominent member of the French Ideologues. He was elected deputy to the Council of Five Hundred and was later an opponent of Napoléon.
[2. ] In his political writings John Milton (1608–76) put forward a strong defense of freedom of the press and endorsed the principles of classical republicanism, which he regarded as compatible with Christianity. For more information see John Milton, Areopagitica and Other Political Writings of John Milton (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 1999), 2–51, 415–45.
[3. ] Probably General Delmas (1766–1813).
[* ] P. 55. Q. What are the duties of Christians toward the princes who govern them, and what are our duties in particular toward Napoléon I, our Emperor?
A. Christians owe to the princes who govern them, and we owe in particular to Napoléon I, our Emperor, love, respect, obedience, fidelity, military service, the taxes which are imposed for the preservation and defense of the empire and his throne. . . . To honor and serve the Emperor is therefore to honor and serve God himself.
Q. Are there not particular motives which ought to attach us more strongly to Napoléon I, our Emperor?
A. Yes; for it is he whom God hath raised up in difficult times to re-establish the public worship of the holy religion of our ancestors, and to be its protector. He has restored and preserved public order by his profound and active wisdom: he defends the state by his powerful arm; he has become the anointed of the Lord by the consecration which he hath received from the sovereign Pontiff, the head of the Catholic church.
Q. What ought we to think of those who should fail in their duty toward our Emperor?
A. According to the Apostle Paul, they would resist the established order of God himself, and would render themselves worthy of everlasting damnation.
[1. ] The book was published in 1802.
[2. ] The phrase “necessary man” is from Necker’s Dernières vues de politique et de finance, 7. After calling Napoléon “a necessary man,” however, Necker went on (in sec. VIII) to draw attention to the highly complex and difficult task faced by the First Consul. For more information, see ibid., 272.
[3. ] In Ten Years of Exile, Madame de Staël acknowledged that she encouraged her father to write and publish the book. For more information, see Ten Years of Exile, pt. I, chap. viii, 38. Also see Haussonville, Madame de Staël et M. Necker d’après leur correspondance inédite, 71–142.
[4. ] Entitled Sur la constitution française du 22 frimaire an VIII.
[5. ] Necker, Dernières vues de politique et de finance, 15–17, 20–21.
[6. ] Ibid., 36–37.
[* ] Last Views on Politics and Finance, p. 41.
[7. ] Ibid., 38–40.
[† ] Last Views on Politics and Finance, p. 53.
[8. ] Ibid., 47–48.
[9. ] The Tribunate had one hundred members appointed for five years by the Senate; one-fifth of the tribunes were renewable every year. As Madame de Staël argued, in spite of its flaws, this institution could have prevented tyranny in the long run had it been allowed to function smoothly. Napoléon came into conflict with the Tribunate in 1802, after the majority of the senators had nominated Daunou, whom the First Consul profoundly disliked, as a candidate for the Tribunate. Napoléon used this pretext to expel the twenty most-independent-minded tribunes (among them Chénier, Bailleul, Daunou, and Constant) and replaced them with obedient individuals who were unlikely to challenge his authority. For more information, see Ten Years of Exile, pt. I, chap. ii, 6–7; and pt. I, chap. ix, 42–43.
[10. ] Necker, Dernières vues de politique et de finance, 72–75.
[11. ] Ibid., 196–221.
[12. ] By the Additional Act during the Hundred Days.
[13. ] Necker, Dernières vues de politique et de finance, 249–50.
[14. ] Ibid., 253–54.
[15. ] See Ten Years of Exile, pt. I, chaps. x–xi, 50–64. In 1803, Madame de Staël left France after having asked Joseph Bonaparte to plead with Napoléon to change his mind (63). She was invited to Joseph’s estate at Mortfontaine, where she spent three days (accompanied by her elder son, Auguste de Staël).
[16. ] Necker, Dernières vues de politique et de finance, 237–71.
[17. ] Ibid., 275–341.
[1. ] Bolingbroke (1678–1751) spent eight years in exile in France, from 1715 to 1723.
[2. ]Ten Years of Exile.
[3. ] Hermesinde de Narbonne-Pelet, Duchess of Cheuvreuse, was exiled to her castle at Luynes. She died in Lyon in 1813.
[4. ] For more information, see Ten Years of Exile, pt. II, chap. i, 101–10. Madame de Staël’s two sons unsuccessfully attempted to meet with Napoléon at Fontainebleau.
[1. ] Necker had published De l’importance des opinions religieuses in 1788. For more information about his religious and philosophical views, see Grange, Les idées de Necker, 517–614.
[2. ] Marie de Vichy-Chambrond, Marquise of Deffand (1697–1780), was famous for her Parisian salon, which attracted such well-known writers as Montesquieu, D’Alembert, and Condorcet.
[3. ] Maximilien de Béthune, Baron of Rosny and Duke of Sully (1560–1641), minister of Henri IV.
[4. ] Necker’s health declined in late March 1804; he passed away during the night of April 9–10. Madame de Staël was in Berlin when she learned of her father’s illness. She returned to Coppet on May 19, 1804. For more information, see Ten Years of Exile, pt. I, chap. xvi, 81–83.
[1. ] The political context of the first years of the Bourbon Restoration (1814–16) was marked by heated controversies in the (in)famous Chambre introuvable, dominated by the ultraconservatives. The newly elected chamber provided an open arena for vigorous political debates among partisans of the Old Regime, supporters of constitutional monarchy and representative government, and those who wanted to continue the Revolution. The legacy of the French Revolution made the entire situation extremely complex, for the country had witnessed not only the “noble” moment of 1789 that marked the fall of absolute monarchy of divine right, but also the dark moment of the Terror of 1793–94. Hence, in reopening the debate over the legitimacy of the principles of 1789, the Restoration had to come to terms with the violent episodes of the French Revolution. For more information, see Craiutu, Liberalism Under Siege, chaps. 2–3, 7–9; and Berthier de Sauvigny, The Bourbon Restoration, pt. I, chaps. 1–5; part II, chaps. 2–6; pt. III, chaps. 3, 5.
[1. ] On this issue, see Furet, Revolutionary France, 219–25, 248–51; and Bergeron, France Under Napoléon, 3–22. Madame de Staël’s words must be taken with a grain of salt and might be more appropriate to a later phase of Napoléon’s rule (after 1808). As many historians have pointed out, the great conquests of 1789 did not disappear in 1804, when Napoléon became emperor. Moreover, the new privileges sanctioned by Napoléon were not hereditary; on the contrary, as Furet argued, “the dialectic of equality and status wove Napoleonic society together more closely than ever” (250). Yet, it is revealing that toward the end of his reign, in 1813, Napoléon predicted: “After me, the Revolution—or, rather, the ideas which formed it—will resume their course. It will be like a book from which the marker is removed, and one starts to read again at the page where one left off” (Furet, Revolutionary France, 265–66). His words vindicated to some extent Madame de Staël’s opinion.
[2. ] The Duke d’Enghien, the son of the last Condé, lived in the town of Baden, a few kilometers away from the French border. At the recommendation of Fouché, Bonaparte sent his men to arrest the duke, who was considered a potential conspirator capable of sowing discord and turmoil in France. He was brought to Vincennes, where he was executed on March 21, 1804.
[3. ] In early May 1804, the Tribunate asked that Napoléon be given the title “Hereditary Emperor of the French.” A plebiscite followed in which fewer than ten thousand voters failed to vote. The coronation ceremony took place at Nôtre Dame on December 2, 1804.
[4. ] The Order of the Iron Crown was created by Napoléon (as King of Italy) in 1805 to reward outstanding civil and military exploits.
[5. ] General Savary (1774–1833), one of Napoléon’s most faithful collaborators, became Duke of Rovigo in May 1808.
[6. ] Etienne-Jacques-Joseph-Alexandre MacDonald, Duke of Taranto (1765–1840), commander of the French army at Naples in 1799, was promoted to the rank of marshal in 1809.
[7. ] André Masséna (1758–1817) was a military officer who became Duke of Rivoli (in 1808) and Prince of Essling (in 1809).
[1. ] In 1807 Jérôme Bonaparte (1784–1860), the youngest brother of Napoléon, became king of Westphalia (which included Hesse); his reign ended in 1813. When his nephew, Prince Louis Napoléon, became president of the French Republic in 1848, Jérôme was made governor of Les Invalides, in Paris, and was later appointed marshal of France and president of the Senate.
[1. ] Friedrich von Gentz (1764–1832), prominent conservative German political thinker, translator of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, and adviser to Metternich.
[2. ] August Wilhelm von Schlegel (1767–1845) was a prominent German Romantic writer and friend of Madame de Staël.
[3. ] Economic liberalism has always had an uncertain existence in France. During the last decade of his life, Benjamin Constant, Madame de Staël’s close friend, published a number of important articles in which he touched on the relationship between economic freedom and political liberty. See Constant, De la liberté chez les modernes, 543–70, 596–602; and Constant, Commentaire sur l’ouvrage de Filangeri, pt. II, 105–224.
[4. ] On October 14, 1066.
[1. ] Reference to the Law Jourdan-Delbrel of September 5, 1798, which introduced mandatory military service.
[2. ] Alexandre I. Czernitchef (1779–1857), prominent Russian general and diplomat. In 1809 Russia supported France in the war against Austria.
[1. ] This strongly centralized structure continued during the first years of the Bourbon Restoration. For more information, see Craiutu, Liberalism Under Siege, chaps. 3 and 6.
[2. ] The tyrant of Agrigento (570–554 bc), who is said to have had his enemies burned inside an iron bull.
[1. ] On the connection between literature and politics, also see Madame de Staël, Politics, Literature, and National Character, 139–265.
[2. ] Pope Pius VII was arrested by Napoléon’s men in July 1809 after refusing to sign a new Concordat. He was able to return to the Vatican only in 1814.
[3. ] Bulletins of the Grand Army.
[4. ] The printed copies of On Germany were destroyed by the police in October 1810; the original manuscript survived and was sent to Vienna. The book finally appeared in London in 1813. For more information, see Ten Years of Exile, 101–10; also see Madame de Staël, ses amis, ses correspondants. Choix de lettres (1778–1817), 395–425.
[5. ] The reason was that the editor had distributed an anti-French tract entitled L’Allemagne dans sa profond humiliation.
[1. ] The future Emperor Napoléon III.
[1. ] Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, book 5, chap. 13, 59.
[2. ] This statement must be taken with a grain of salt. Napoléon’s legacy includes, among other things, the famous Napoleonic Code (enacted in 1804) and the introduction of the modern professional conscript army. For an overview of Napoléon’s institutional legacy (the administration, the fiscal and judicial systems, education, the army, and the relations between the state and the church), see Bergeron, France Under Napoléon, 23–84; and Alexander, Bonapartism and Revolutionary Tradition in France. A detailed study of legislation under Napoléon can be found in Beck, French Legislators, 1800–1834.
[3. ] This interpretation of Machiavelli as the founder of “Machiavellianism” has recently been challenged and nuanced by scholars (such as Quentin Skinner and Maurizio Viroli) who emphasized his republicanism. The classical biography of Machiavelli remains Ridolfi, The Life of Niccolò Machiavelli.
[4. ] Francesco Melzi d’Eril (1753–1816) became vice president of the Cisalpine Republic in 1801. Four years later, he was appointed grand chancellor of the Kingdom of Italy and was ennobled in 1807.
[5. ] After divorcing Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoléon married Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria, in 1810.
[6. ] From 1807 to 1813. The French army’s occupation of the north of Spain provoked the revolt of May 1808. The war began after Napoléon installed his brother Joseph Bonaparte as the king of Spain. The war ended in 1813, when Ferdinand VII (of the Bourbon dynasty) became the king of Spain.
[1. ] From 1810 until 1814.
[2. ] Louis Bonaparte was the king of Holland from 1806 to 1810.
[3. ] Napoléon decided to leave Moscow on October 19, 1812, when the temperatures were still mild. In early November they dropped significantly, hindering the orderly retreat of the French army.
[4. ] Napoléon arrived in Dresden on May 9, 1812, where he hoped to meet the Emperor of Austria and the German princes in order to convince them to endorse his Russian campaign.
[5. ] Capelle was the prefect of the department of Lyon.
[6. ] Madame de Staël left Coppet on May 23, 1812. She headed for Berne, Innsbruck, and Vienna and arrived in Moscow on August 1, 1812. She then left for Saint Petersburg, Stockholm, and London, where she arrived on June 18, 1813. For more information, see Staël, Ten Years of Exile, pt. II, chaps. v–xx, 131–229; and Madame de Staël, ses amis, ses correspondants. Choix de lettres (1778–1817), 427–79.
[7. ] See the letter sent by Madame de Staël to Tsar Alexander I in 1814, in Madame de Staël, ses amis, ses correspondants. Choix de lettres (1778–1817), 476. The tsar did not live up to Madame de Staël’s hopes, as he refused to endorse the friends of constitutional liberty in France. It would be worth comparing these optimistic words of Madame de Staël with the account of Astolphe de Custine, who visited Russia two decades later (translated into English as Empire of the Czar).
[8. ] During the retreat of the French army from Russia.
[9. ] On June 4, 1813, a truce was signed at Pleiswitz; it lasted until August 10, 1813. On June 27, England, Prussia, Austria, and Russia signed a treaty that sought to open negotiations with France. Napoléon, who wanted to preserve the borders of 1812, rejected Metternich’s proposals, and the war began again in August 1813.
[10. ] The 29th Bulletin of the Grand Army.
[11. ] On October 23, 1812, General Mallet attempted a coup d’état that failed.
[12. ] The concept “ideology” was coined by Destutt de Tracy. For more information, see Freeden, Ideology: A Very Short Introduction; and Welch, Liberty and Utility.
[13. ] Louise de Mecklembourg-Strelitz (1776–1810), Queen of Prussia, opposed Napoléon in 1806.
[14. ] In November 1813, Holland rebelled against Napoléon. The Prince of Orange was recalled and became king of the Netherlands (Holland and Belgium) in 1815.
[15. ] Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington (1769–1852). Wellington defeated Napoléon at Waterloo on June 18, 1815, and subsequently served as prime minister (1828–30).
[16. ] After the battle of Leipzig in October 1813, Napoléon rejected the peace offer made by Metternich. While the Senate agreed with the Emperor, some members of the legislative body, including Raynouard, Lainé, Gallois, and Maine de Biran, expressed their concern with the Emperor’s policy in December 1813.
[17. ] Joseph Lainé (1767–1835) served as president of the Chamber of Deputies during the First Bourbon Restoration (1814–15) and minister of the interior (1816–18). He was elected to the French Academy in 1816.
[18. ] The Congress of Châtillon-sur-Seine convened on February 3, 1814, after Napoléon’s defeat at La Rothière. Napoléon refused again the terms proposed by the representatives of Austria, Russia, England, and Prussia.
[19. ] The Charter of 1814 was “granted” by Louis XVIII in June 1814 upon his return to France.
[20. ] Reference to the Treaty of Paris, signed on May 30, 1814.
[21. ] At Sainte-Helena.